Besides good nectar plants, butterflies need special host or larval plants on which to lay eggs. After the eggs hatch, the caterpillar or larva spends its life eating the leaves of the host plant.
As it grows bigger, it sheds its outer skin four to six times before becoming a chrysalis. Finally the adult butterfly emerges and the cycle may be repeated, depending on the species and time of year. On average, from egg to adult takes about a month. Not any plant will do for caterpillars.
Each butterfly species has its preferred host plants. Female butterflies search for these particular species on which to lay their eggs. You can often see one flying from plant to plant, landing briefly on a leaf, then taking off again.
Many of these host plants are trees like birches, poplars, and willows see list below. These may already be growing in your neighbourhood and need not be considered unless you are starting from scratch in a new subdivision. The two host-plant families that are easiest to provide are the various milkweeds for Monarch butterflies and fennel, dill, parsley, or other members of the carrot family for Black Swallowtails. Both of these plant groups are also extremely good nectar sources for all kind of insects, especially the beneficial ones that eat or parasitize the pests in your garden.
Other attractive host plants are violets for fritillary butterflies and pearly everlasting for the American Painted Lady. If you have a large garden or an out-of-the-way corner, you might also put in a nettle bed for Red Admirals and Question Marks and thistles Cirsium for Painted Ladies. Butterflies have been declining in number due to a combination of factors: bad weather, development, and pesticides. Cool, wet summers are not ideal for butterflies, and very hot, dry ones may limit the abundance of plants due to drought.
Butterflies can overcome unsuitable weather conditions, but not pesticide spraying or loss of habitat. To help restore butterfly populations, we need to recreate suitable habitats for them.
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Each garden for butterflies is a tiny island on its own that a butterfly might miss. The more such gardens there are, the greater their chance of being effective. Neighbours on a block might join together to contribute different parts of a combined habitat for several species. Please join us and become one of the butterfly gardeners of the world. The more variety you have in your garden, the more insects, including butterflies, you are likely to attract. If you have grass, you could also have a wildflower lawn that includes creeping buttercups, thymes, and clovers.
Gardening for butterflies. What do butterflies need?
Landowner's Guide: Special Feature Gardens
Just like us, they want food, shelter, warmth, and a suitable place for a family. Food A butterfly looks for plants that are good sources of nectar to give it the energy it needs for flying — to look for other nectar plants, to find a mate, to patrol and chase off intruders, and to find the right plant on which to lay eggs. Areas that have formed weed districts prohibit by law the culture of Canada thistle. A few butterflies also develop on certain garden crops and may be pests if the vegetable is considered more desirable than the insects.
The European cabbage butterfly on broccoli, cabbage and other mustards and the black swallowtail on parsley and dill are common garden inhabitants in Colorado. Use insecticides sparingly because most are not compatible with attracting and increasing the number of butterflies in a yard. Most garden insecticides can kill the caterpillar stages of the insects.
Adult butterflies also can be killed by resting on insecticide-treated surfaces. Opler, Geological Survey, U. Department of the Interior; and W. Cranshaw, Colorado State University Extension entomologist and professor, bioagricultural sciences and pest management. Learn more about us or about our partners.
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Search Site. Table 1: Some nectar-bearing plants commonly visited by butterflies. Asters Aster spp. Planting a butterfly garden in south Florida is one way to help restore some of the habitat that has been lost to development and provide resources for wild butterflies to thrive and grow. The following plants have been selected and rated by NABA members as important native plants for butterfly gardening in the region. Plant three nectar plants and three caterpillar food plants that are native to your region.
Your garden will then qualify to join the growing number of NABA Certified Butterfly Gardens , helping to promote and increase butterfly habitat across the country.
NABA greatly appreciates the volunteer contributions of the local experts who generously gave their advice on this garden guide. NABA Homepage.