To say that I love butterflies is an understatement. I absolutely adore them. Whether they are flitting above me overhead or stopping to enjoy some delectable nectar from my flowers, few things are more amazing than a butterfly in nature.
I even go as far as planting host plants to encourage butterflies to find their way to me and encourage them to start a family of their own within the area of my flower gardens. Host plants, in case you are not already aware, are the plants that serve as the beginning food for the caterpillars before they eventually eat their fill and form a chrysalis or, as some call it, a cocoon.
It has taken me a little research to find the correct host plants for each type of butterfly since they vary from butterfly to butterfly depending on type. My favorites which are Black Swallowtails prefer dill, fennel, parsley, carrot, rue and parsnip to munch on. I actually keep a border of bronze fennel all around my back patio just to make sure that any Swallowtail caterpillars will have plenty of food available to them. I also plant parsley in the area for good measure.
To attract what seems to be everyone’s favorite — the Monarch — all you need to do is plant Milkweed. I prefer the native variety which blooms orange in color, but they will also visit the pink, yellow and white hybrid varieties I have as well. I get really excited when I see Monarchs — not only because they are so pretty but also because I know that their numbers have been declining each year due to multiple factors and it is becoming almost rare to see them these days.
Other butterflies common to our area are Painted Ladies which prefer Thistles as their host plants. Red Admirals that seem to adopt their gardener where they tend to hang out enjoy nettles as well as false nettle. Viceroys which look similar to Monarchs like to spend their caterpillar days enjoying almost any sort of willows (including black and pussy willows) as well as within the leaves of poplars, plum and cherry trees.
Once you know what you are looking for and where to look you will be amazed at how much is going on right in front of you daily. Once you start admiring all of these creatures you will most likely want to create your own butterfly habitat.
They key to starting your own butterfly habitat is to first resist the urge to use any chemicals within your growing area. Butterflies, like many other insects, are sensitive to pesticides and such and will avoid areas they realize could kill them. If possible, choose a sheltered area that is protected from the wind. It will be more welcoming to the butterflies if they don’t have to try to survive wind gusts while enjoying their lunch.
It also helps to provide a small area of wet sand. Butterflies (especially males) enjoy going and soaking up minerals this way, which is vital to their reproduction. And of course, plant butterfly friendly plants. Then you can be on your way to enjoying your very own butterfly area.
Be sure to place a bench or chair in an area so you can take a moment to actually enjoy what you have created. Some days I go out to check and see the progress of caterpillars I spied the day prior only to realize that what I planned as checking on my creatures turns into an entire afternoon of being in awe of those around me. Nothing is as beautiful as a butterfly in flight.
Sacha Burns is an organic gardener and owner of Sunkissed Organics in Pinola. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.