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It takes more than nectar to entice butterflies to take up residence in your garden. While nectar-rich flowers attract passersby to stop and feed, host plants send an invitation to stay a while. Larval host plants are the secret to successful butterfly gardening; they are plants required by a caterpillar for growth and development.
By planting host plants in your garden, you offer a promise of food for the next generation and will attract more butterflies than you thought possible.
Female butterflies are lured to host plants by a combination of chemical cues released from the plant. Once they locate a host, they begin laying eggs. Males are also attracted to host plants, where they can surely find females for mating.
All this business of searching out mates and host plants is tiring. The adult butterflies will need energy to keep busy. Providing a balance of nectar-rich flowers to fuel butterflies and host plants to nurture young ensures a garden bustling with activity.
But which plants are best? Different species of butterfly rely on different host plants to rear their young and vary in their preferences for nectar sources, so each species has a unique set of ideal plants. Gardeners can take several approaches to designing a butterfly garden. You might focus on a few desirable butterfly species you wish to attract and select host and nectar plants accordingly.
Another option is to go local. Plants native to your region host butterflies native to your region. Try planting a variety of your favorite native plants and enjoy the surprise of discovering which butterflies show up.
This unique wildflower gets its name from the multitude of blooms that emerge on each plant, resembling shooting stars. This hardy wildflower can produce up to twelve delicate blosso...
Desmondium canadense is great for shady, moist wild gardens. Lovely foliage and flowers. Perennial...
This rare wildflower lights up the summer garden with orange/red, show flowers. The bright blooms also attract hummingbirds and butterflies! Biennial....
Turtlehead is an easy-to-grow beauty that boasts dense spikes of pure white flowers on richly-green foliage. This native plant plays a vital role in nature – It acts as a host plan...
If you’re looking to attract your favorite butterfly species to the garden, start by making a list of larval host plants and nectar favorites specific to the target species. Look around your garden. You might already have many of the nectar plants in your landscape. If so, simply tuck a few host plants in among the flowers and you’ll be ready to go. If not, you’ll want to plant a mixture of nectar-rich flowers and host plants in a sunny location.
Here are plant lists for some of the most popular butterflies to get you started.
There are many of species of swallowtail throughout the country. Two of the most common are the eastern swallowtail (Papilo polyxenes) and tiger swallowtail (Pterourus glaucus), each a vivid mix of yellow, black and blue. Tiger swallowtails use trees as larval host plants, but can be drawn to gardens with nectar resources. Eastern swallowtail caterpillars are often found in the vegetable garden feeding on herbs in the carrot family. Plant extras so you have plenty for cooking and caterpillars, or try planting ornamental bronze fennel.
Try seeding an area with the Giant Swallowtail Nectar Seed Collection which provides nectar resources for a variety of species including the humongous giant swallowtail, Heraclides cresphontes.
In decline due to loss of habitat, both in summer and wintering habitats, monarchs (Danaus plexippus) are the poster child of butterfly gardening. Monarch larvae are dependent upon plants in the milkweed family for survival. Gardeners across the country are doing their part to protect monarchs by planting local milkweed species.
Seed mixes abound for this popular butterfly. The Monarch Nectar Seed Collection provides nectar-rich food plants as well as two species of milkweed to support larval development.
With nectar resources and larval host plants the Painted Lady Nectar Seed Collection is a great way to attract this garden beauty.
Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanilla) and its larval host plant passionflower (Passiflora spp.) make for a stunning duo in the garden. Ranging throughout the southern states, the vibrant orange butterfly is a regular in urban gardens and a favorite for outdoor classrooms.
Not all butterflies gather energy from feeding on nectar. Some species find nourishment in rotting fruit, dung and even carrion. While you’re not likely to put a steaming pile of manure or rotting carcass in the yard, you may try offering a fruit-feeding station. Simply place over-ripe fruits on a flat rock or wooden platform and enjoy the feeding frenzy. Fruit-feeders include mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), monarch (Danaus plexippus), red-spotted purple (Basilarchia astyanax) and question mark (Polygonia interragationis).
With a mixture of larval host plants, nectar resources and alternative foods like fruit, you are sure to welcome a diversity of winged life into the garden. Add a shallow dish of water and a sheltered place to escape the wind to complete your butterfly oasis.
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