Land development and the widespread use of insecticides and
herbicides have endangered many butterflies as their habitats have
been degraded or destroyed. Butterflies and moths are significant
pollinators, important in the food chain, and are major indicators
of environmental quality. A refuge for butterflies improves our
world environmentally and aesthetically.
For the maximum number
and variety of butterflies you should plant a "butterfly garden." If
you don't have the space or inclination to dedicate an entire garden
to butterflies, you can make your garden and yard butterfly-friendly
by applying the same principles and adding some plants throughout
When planning butterfly gardens, remember the life cycle of the
insects. It is not enough to only have nectar plants for the adults.
The garden must also have food for hungry caterpillars. High-quality
gardens provide a variety of food sources for both caterpillars and
Caterpillar food plants are often common "weeds," so host plants
aren't mandatory, especially if you live in a rural area, but if
your garden contains at least a few caterpillar plants, the
diversity and number of butterflies will increase. Adults lay eggs
on plants that their offspring will eat. Many times these host
plants are different from the nectar plants adults require.
Caterpillars eat like a group of teenage boys, consuming anything in
their path, so expect caterpillars to consume entire leaves of their
host plant. Don't worry about the plant; enjoy watching the
caterpillar's single-minded devotion to eating. (Remember, one of
the cardinal rules of butterfly gardening is no pesticides.)
Eventually the very plump caterpillar spins a cocoon or chrysalis
for its amazing transformation into an adult butterfly or moth. If
you are lucky and observe carefully, you will be able to watch the
new adult struggle out of its cocoon, expand and dry its wings, then
take its first flight.
Flying requires tremendous amounts of energy that the butterfly
gets from flower nectar. Butterflies prefer a varied diet and visit
a number of different flowers.
So what should you plant? Generally if you keep in mind a few
general principles on flower shape, color and fragrance, butterflies
will come to your yard.
Because butterflies have a mouth similar to a drinking straw,
they prefer easy access to nectar. They do not hover, so they also
need a landing area on a plant with sturdy stems. A flat, circular
center, with or without interior petals, is a perfect landing
platform and dining area. Members of the composite or aster family
are ideal. Examples are coneflowers, zinnias, marigolds, cosmos,
black-eyed Susans and asters. Other good plants have clusters of
small flowers, like butterfly weed, butterfly bush, alyssum, mint,
verbena and phlox.
Most butterflies favor pink, lavender or purple blossoms, but
some may visit other colors. For instance, swallowtails like reds
and have been seen on yellow lantana.
Butterflies have a well-developed sense of smell and are
attracted to heavily perfumed flowers. They will pass over lightly
scented varieties in favor of the most fragrant. Heirloom and
old-fashioned varieties tend to have a stronger scent. If you are
interested in attracting moths, add sweet-smelling, night-blooming
flowers like nicotiana.
Although a mix of flower types is good, large masses of one type
are better than a bed with lots of varieties but only one or two
plants of each type. For example, an entire bed of purple
coneflowers will draw more butterflies than a single coneflower
mixed in with other butterfly plants.
Butterfly gardens should have full sun and protection from strong
winds. An ideal location is on the south or southeast side of a tall
building or fence on a south-facing slope. You can also use tall
shrubs to achieve a similar effect. Butterflies, like all insects,
are cold-blooded and need to warm themselves in the sun before they
are able to fly. A brick or stone pathway or a few dark-colored
stones scattered in the garden are good butterfly warmers.
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The final thing you may wish to add is a small wet spot. A large
rock with a depression that can be kept full of water is one option.
Another is filling a small container with sand, sinking it into the
ground and keeping the sand wet. In the wild, butterflies gather
around these small wet sites, probably for salt.
[By BARBARA LARSON, University of Illinois Extension, unit
educator, horticulture, Winnebago and Boone counties]
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources recommends the
following as good choices for the home gardener:
Plants commonly used by various adult butterflies as nectar
New England aster
Plants commonly used as both nectar sources for adults and as
food sources for larvae:
The Butterfly Site also offers extensive information on how to
attract specific butterflies to your garden:
Butterflies that live in Illinois:
Nectar plants for the specific butterflies you would like to
Host plants that provide a site for the butterfly to lay eggs
and that act as a food source for hungry caterpillars:
You will find more links to moth and butterfly pictures and other
useful information at this Illinois Department of Natural Resources
2012 Spring Home & Garden Magazine for these great articles:
A fresh coat of paint
Creating a cool
Weekend warrior takes
on the bath
Manicuring the lawn
New outdoor blooms
butterflies to your yard