Georgia Gardener Newsletter Design Tip: February 21, 2008
|Butterfly sipping Salvia nectar
||Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on Fennel
Every garden whether it's 100 acres or 100 square feet should have some plants and features intended to attract butterflies.
Butterfly gardening is something that every person from 1-98+ can enjoy. There is something peaceful and satisfying watching
adult butterflies move from flower to flower or lay their eggs. Even the voracious butterfly larvae caterpillars
are fascinating to watch as they eat the leaves of host plants. Butterflies are so beautiful that I refer to them as flying
Components of a Butterfly Garden
There are several things that every butterfly must have in order to be completely successful:
In addition to these, rotting fruit is often attractive to butterflies. Unfortunately, it's also attractive to yellow jackets.
Therefore, you will have to make the decision whether or not to include this item in your butterfly garden. From personal
observation, I have also noted that butterflies like to hide or even crawl to spin their cocoons in my native ornamental grasses.
Therefore, I like to include these also.
- Nectar-producing flowers that attract adult butterflies
- Host plants specific for local butterfly species
- Area for sunning (such as a flat rock)
- Small mud puddles
While nectar plants are well-known and documented in a wide variety of publications and will be covered below, I want to start
with the host plants that each butterfly species MUST have in order to survive. Female butterflies only lay their eggs on
specific plants. Which plants depends upon which species of butterfly.
These host plants may be just a few related species from a single genus or from closely related genera. The table below lists
some of our native butterflies are their associated host plant(s).
||Host Plant Common Name
||Host Plant Latin Name
||Violets & Passion Vine
||Viola spp., Passiflora spp.
|E. Black Swallowtail
||Angelica & related species
||Angelica spp. (Apiaceae Family)
||Tulip Poplar, Cottonwood
||Symphiotrichum spp., etc.
||Symphiotrichum spp., etc.
||Willows, Cherries, Plums
||Salix spp., Prunus spp.
||Elm, Willow, Cottonwood
||Ulmus, Salix & Populus spp.
As you can see from this table, not all our flowers. Some host plants are large trees and others are, well, weeds. Some plants
are both hosts and nectar sources.
Native Nectar Sources
I prefer to use native plants when attracting adult butterflies to my garden. I feel that since both the butterflies and plants
evolved together, they play a critical role in each other's life cycles.
|Joe-pye Weed||Purple Coneflower|
Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium spp.) blooms in July and August. It can be quite tall, but shorter cultivars exist. It prefers
a moist soil. I often have dozens of butterflies on it simultaneously. Purple coneflower begins blooming in June and can
continue into fall. Both of these plants prefer full sun.
|Woodland Phlox||Orange Milkweed|
Butterflies often emerge early in spring and are immediately in search of nectar. Woodland phlox (Phlox stolonifera) blooms
in early April and is often covered with butterflies. Orange milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) begins blooming in June. It is a
nectar source for many adult butterflies but is also a host plant for the Monarch. Woodland phlox grows best in rich soil in
the shade, while milkweed loves the hot sun and dry soil.
|Early Sunrise Coreopsis||Homestead Purple Verbena|
Coreopsis spp.(aka tickseed) are late spring to summer blooming perennials with several species and varieties. All attract butterflies.
Verbena canadensis 'Homestead Purple' is a long-blooming groundcover which grows rapidly. Both of these plants enjoy full sun
and well-drained soil.
|Bottlebrush Buckeye||Passion Vine|
Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) is a large late summer blooming shrub that thrives in partial to medium shade. These
flower stalks are often covered with numerous butterflies. Passion Vine (Passiflora incarnata) is a sprawling vine that not
only attracts adult butterflies to its intricate flowers, but is also a host for the Gulf Fritillary (note the chewed leaves).
There are many butterfly-attracting (and attractive) native plants. These include: native azaleas, goldenrod, rudbeckia,
obedient plant, turtlehead, buttonbush and so forth. If you would like to print a (pdf) list of native plants for your butterfly
garden (including the table above), click
Some Well-Behaved Non-Natives
As with the salvia pictured at the top, there are several non-native plants that also attract butterflies.
I often recommend these plants because they have not been
found to be invasive.
Unfortunately, there are some popular plants used in butterfly gardens which are now considered a threat to our
native ecosystems. These include: Butterfly Bush (Buddleja spp.), Brazilian Vervain (Verbena bonariensis &
V. brasiliensis), Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota), Oxeye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum). Please carefully
research any non-native plants you wish to introduce to your garden.
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