For most of us, nature’s colorful ambassadors are friends. However, butterfly larvae (caterpillars) need host sources (food plants), while adult butterflies need nectar sources (i.e., flowers). If you pick the appropriate plants, you can be assured butterflies will take up residence on your property, and you will be participating in habitat conservation.
WHY WE NEED TO PLANT BUTTERFLY GARDENS
Reproduction is the main function of all mature plants, animals, and insects. To no one’s surprise, butterflies are no different from any other living organism. Butterflies are known to visit nectar flowers to increase strength for the mating ritual and for laying eggs. The moment they emerge from the chrysalis they begin seeking a mate.
Flourishing butterfly gardens include plants for caterpillars, as well as nectar sources for adults. Researchers have found that most butterfly species require a certain type of host plant in order for females to lay. This is why planting a butterfly garden is so important. Butterflies are the center of all nature. They are a glue that helps keep the environment in balance. They are the driving force for many reproducing species. While butterflies feed on nectar sources, it has been discovered that they release a chemical that enables bees to reproduce.
If we all do a little to help increase butterfly populations, we would also see an increase in the number of pollinating bees. You see, if we were to have no butterflies, we would have no bees. If we were to have no bees, we would have no peas. In other words, the earth would have no source for food.
We need to do something. Relying on other people, groups, or organizations to solve the problem will not lead the earth to environmental sustainability. We must all take it upon ourselves to do our part.
All of us; individuals and nations, governments and churches, organizations and schools, corporations and foundations should do something!
WHAT WE NEED TO PLANT TO ATTRACT BUTTERFLIES
Watching butterflies can become quite a learning experience for everyone. It is thought by some that while butterflies grace our presence with their spectacular colors that they seem to release a spirit of peace and tranquillity. Perhaps if everyone centered their attention on the success of butterflies, all the problems with the environment could be solved. Just a thought…. but I do know that it is the simple things in this world that control the complicated.
Asters, bleeding hearts, lupines, and sunflowers are just some of the flowers that butterflies love to visit. Plants that attract these beautiful creatures are easy to incorporate in any garden, as they include many cherished annuals, perennials, and herbs.
However, before you plan the layout for your garden, it is best to understand a butterfly’s life cycle. Simply planting a few butterfly plants around your property will not bring success. You must take the butterflies entire life cycle into account!
Incorporate a variety of plants for caterpillars. When you welcome the presence of caterpillars in your garden, you will be able to observe the miracle of the metamorphosis. If you are trying to attract a particular species, plant host plants specific for that butterfly. If you live in North America, the Peterson Field Guides are good sources for in-depth information.
Once the eggs hatch, the caterpillars consume plant leaves and stems at an enormous rate and grow at amazing speeds. Caterpillars molt several times during this stage, eventually molting to form a chrysalis. It is during this stage that nearly all of the caterpillar’s tissues is transformed. When the caterpillar begins to emerge from the chrysalis, we see a butterfly! However, freshly emerged butterflies must first dry their wings. Once they’ve emerged and dried, the butterfly is then ready to float and flutter.
At the close of the summer season, butterflies have a variety of arrangements for overwintering. Some overwinter as eggs and chrysalises — often in compost or attached to host plants. There are also species that roll themselves in leaves and overwinter as caterpillars; others hibernate as adults in buildings and tree hollows. Monarchs on the other hand, migrate each fall, to overwinter in central Mexico or southern California. Even a few other species are known to migrate on a limited basis.
Painted ladies lay on a wide variety of plants in the daisy family. Gulf fritillaries prefer passion flowers, as Pipevine swallowtails do pipevines. Viceroys lay on willows, poplars, and a range of fruit trees. Western tiger swallowtails lay on sycamores, willows, poplars, and aspens, and Zebra swallowtails are known to lay on pawpaws.
Even those with very little experience with lepidoptera can recognize a Monarch visitor (either a caterpillar or adult butterfly) on an Asclepias plant. As you can see, host plants are very important to butterflies and caterpillars. They are also very important to us. In fact, Monarch butterflies will only lay on plants of the Asclepias (i.e., butterfly weed or milkweed) family. However, many species feast on the nectar as well, including fritillaries, painted ladies, skippers, swallowtails, question marks, and viceroys. Queens are also known to lay eggs on Asclepias.
Asclepias grows nicely as a border or in a meadow. It is the perfect plant for those interested in a wild garden, as it is the perfect choice for those interested in conserving water. Another remarkable thing about Asclepias, is that it isn’t susceptible to erosion.
The four species available through nurseries are curassavica, incarnata, syriaca, and tuberosa (butterfly weed). Full sun is required, and be advised that average, loamy or sandy soil that is well drained is best. Incarnata is known to survive dry soil, but still prefers evenly moist conditions.
If you are planning to plant Asclepias from seed it is best to scatter the seeds in the fall, as the seeds need to be weathered. For best results, as with other butterfly gardens, please allow plants the opportunity to progress through two years of growth.
CLICK HERE FOR A LIST OF BUTTERFLY PLANTS
OF INTEREST TO SOME: It is estimated that 50% of people’s allergies could be eliminated if yard grass was converted to butterfly friendly plant species. In fact, when it comes to medicinal properties, in my recent journal on Asclepias, I gave historical evidence that the genus was previously known to treat many ailments, including cancer, heart disease and pneumonia. Just recently, the Asclepias genus was found to contain chemical compounds that double the number of cancer fighting agents. Just think of the medical possibilities!
Wouldn’t it be nice to know that your personal butterfly garden may help lead to the cure for AIDS, cancer, heart disease, or any of the other diseases that seem to plague mankind?
WHERE TO PLANT YOUR BUTTERFLY GARDEN
Butterflies are particular insects and insist that certain habitat criteria be met. Sunshine is of foremost consideration to butterflies. If possible, make sure your butterfly garden has southern exposure. Butterflies use early morning sun for basking on warm rocks, bricks or paths. As the morning temperatures rise, butterflies commence visiting their favorite nectar sources, but always in sunlit areas, as they try to avoid shade.
Butterflies cherish an area where they can fly without being beat in the air. That is why, it is recommended to choose a garden spot that is protected from prevailing winds. If an area is not available, consider planting a windscreen of lilac, buddleia, or even lantana — shrubs which not only protect butterflies from wind, but which are also proven to be coveted nectar sources. Trellised wisteria and passion vine can also be used to serve the same purpose. A willow tree barrier may even be suitable for some.
Sunny areas that are sheltered from wind and contain such amenities as leaf compost, rock crevices, brush, or even weeds are great places to place your butterfly garden.
In addition to planting host and nectar plants around your borders, include them in front of any foundation shrubs, meadow plantings, or woodland edges.
Butterflies seem particularly attracted to gardens flaunting abundant patches of a given nectar flower. If you plant lilacs, aster, or Asclepias, don’t settle for one or two specimens. Try growing three or more patches of these extremely popular nectar flowers, and watch the Monarchs and/or swallowtails come in flocks.
REMEMBER: Be sure to include flowers for nectar and plants for larvae. Try to plant different species, that way you will have nectar producing flowers blooming throughout all of the spring, summer, and fall.
When you design your garden distribute your plants with informal groups at varied heights, including many low growing species that will grow onto your garden paths.
Warming Areas: Butterflies will utilize areas covered with low ground covers to sun themselves. Since they are a cold-blooded invertebrate, sunning helps them regulate their temperatures. Providing a flat rock in the sun, in a windless area along the edge of your garden is a clever idea.
Available Water: There are several ways to provide butterflies with water. A conventional birdbath or other shallow container that is filled with flat stones can provide a safe drinking spot. The stones should emerge from the water, allowing butterflies to alight and drink without getting wet. A low spot that remains moist, or that you keep moist by regular watering, also provides a suitable drinking spot. Butterflies will also visit muddy or sandy spots along streams and pools.
Diversified Environment: The larger the assortment of butterfly plants your garden provides, the more species of butterflies you are likely to attract. Boggy areas, conventional beds and borders, shady wooded areas, sunny meadows, and woodland edges are all known to attract butterflies. Some butterflies will even feed on rotting fruit or sap running from wounds in trees.
Butterfly gardening can be a lifelong adventure that becomes more exciting as your knowledge grows.
IMPORTANT: IF YOU LOVE BUTTERFLIES DO NOT SPRAY YOUR GARDEN WITH ANY TYPE OF PESTICIDE OR INSECTICIDE. YOU WILL KILL THEM!
The Butterfly Guy