The Importance of Native Plants for Butterflies

Today it is more important than ever to make a place for butterflies in our urban gardens. Butterfly habitats have been diminishing steadily and so have butterfly populations. Many butterflies and native plants have co-evolved and depend on each other for survival. We can provide for them and have a beautiful garden. Caterpillars need host plants to feed on once they emerge and adults need nectar. American Beauties plant tags will show you which plants attract butterflies.

Tips for Planting a Butterfly Garden:

  • Pick a sunny site. Butterflies are cold-blooded and need to warm up their bodies to be able to fly well.
  • Plant nectar plants in large groups so they can be seen from farther away.
  • Plant a variety of native plants that bloom at different times so that adult butterflies have a nectar source all season.
  • Include host plants into your design so butterflies have a place to lay their eggs and the caterpillars have a food source.
  • Butterflies like bright colors like red, yellow, orange, pink, and purple.
  • Avoid using chemicals in your garden and on your lawn. These products can kill butterflies and other beneficial insects in both their larval and adult phase.
  • Try to provide a sheltered area. Wind can make it difficult for butterflies to maneuver and requires extra energy.
  • Make a place for "puddling". Put course sand and water in a shallow dish. Butterflies will congregate there to drink water and extract minerals.
  • Link to Butterfly Landscape Designs

The Life Cycle of a Butterfly

Butterflies are the jewels of a garden perhaps in part because of their extraordinary life cycle that can last a month or nearly a year. They begin life as a tiny egg that the female has attached to a leaf of a host plant or near one. A host plant is what the caterpillar will feed on when it emerges. Host plants are critical to butterflies because some, like Monarchs can only feed on one species of plant, milkweeds. If you look closely, you can often see the caterpillar growing inside. When the caterpillar or larva emerges from the egg it is in a feeding and growth stage. It will shed its skin several times to accommodate its growing body. When the caterpillar spins it’s cocoon the transformation begins in the chrysalis or pupa. Many species overwinter in this stage. Finally, the magic is complete and the adult or imago emerges. In this stage butterflies mate and migrate or colonize new areas so, the circle begins again.

Unique Relationships Between Butterflies and Native Plants

Dutchman’s Pipe and Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies

Aristolochia macrophylla otherwise known as Dutchman’s Pipe, is a climbing vine with large, glossy, heart-shaped leaves. It’s funny name comes from the shape of its’ unusual flowers. It’s a delightful landscape plant, ideal for trellises and arbors where it will provide deep shade for the resting gardeners below. Besides being a natural beauty, Dutchman’s Pipe attracts the large and lovely pipevine swallowtail butterfly. After mating, female butterflies will lay their eggs on the underside of the large leaves. They will only lay their eggs on plants from the pipevine family because they are the only plants the caterpillars can eat! Read more here…

Butterfly Weed and Monarch Butterflies

Asclepias tuberose is the botanical name for butterfly weed. I guess it’s no surprise that this plant is a butterfly magnet. As I look out my window right now, I can see a flurry of activity as butterflies and other pollinators vie for the blossoms nectar. I love the bright orange flowers in our landscape and they brighten our home as cut flowers too. While butterfly weed attracts a variety of butterflies, they are most commonly associated with monarchs. From caterpillar to adulthood, a monarch’s whole life revolves around this plant. Without milkweed there would be no Monarchs. Read more here… 

Rattlesnake Master and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails

Eryngium yuccifolium is a strangely fitting name for this wierd and wonderful plant. I assure you they will not attract rattlesnakes or I would not prize them so in my own garden. This is a tough plant for hot, dry sites with a striking architectural form. It’s best planted in small groups as a tall accent plant. From Minnesota to Virginia and south all the way to Texas, rattlesnake master acts as a host plant for swallowtail caterpillars. You’ll also see a wide range of other butterflies and insects landing on the flowers to drink the nectar. Best of all, deer don’t seem to care for rattlesnake master. Read more here… 

Butterfly Garden Designs