Is there anybody who doesn’t love butterflies? Even the most hardened gardener perks up when one of nature’s beauties flutters by. They serve a useful function in the garden, too. They eat flower nectar and thus pollinate plants in the garden, just as bees do.
Unfortunately, butterflies bear another resemblance to bees: both are in decline. The reasons are debatable, but one possible cause is the destruction of butterfly habitat as cities expand.
The cycle may be reversible. Planting gardens filled with native plants (not alien plants, which don’t help butterflies) can help butterflies to rebuild their populations. This is not difficult. There are many plants in each USDA hardiness zone that can provide nourishing nectar to butterflies. For a definitive answer, call your county extension agents. This is often a good idea anyway – they can give you all kinds of useful information, and they’re free – your taxes pay their salaries.
Some plants that butterflies love include the following: purple coneflowers (also known as “echinacea”), yellow coneflowers, poppies, sunflowers, daisies, cosmos, salvia, some lilies, asters, coreopsis (also called “tickseed”), verbenas, and zinnias. Milkweed is another wonderful butterfly-helping plant, especially for monarch butterflies; their caterpillars eat only millkweed. Don’t forget those popular marigolds – they’re terrific garden workhorses for many reasons! But don’t assume that those plants help your own local butterflies; do your due diligence, or you won’t do butterflies any good at all.
The butterfly bush – also known as buddleia or buddleja – is an old standby for butterfly-lovers. Because they are so much larger than most flowers, these bushes can really attract lots of butterflies!
The proper nectar is important to butterflies, but equally important is host plants for the caterpillars that turn into butterflies. These plants, too, vary in different areas.
Another way to help butterflies in your garden is to build special habitats for them, furnishing sand and water as well as other butterfly food, including rotting fruit. Be very careful never to use non-organic herbicides or pesticides in your butterfly garden; they can be especially sensitive to these poisons.
Enjoy your butterflies!