nature notes – native garden nurtures butterflies
By CATHRYN HOYT, Ph.D.
Butterflies add just the right touch to a flower garden. And if you want more butterflies pollinating your flowers, try creating a butterfly garden!
The Chihuahuan Desert has an amazing diversity of butterflies. One key to attracting butterflies to your yard is to remember that native plants attract native pollinators. Hybrid tea roses, daylilies and petunias won’t bring in the butterflies.
So first of all, to attract butterflies – grow native!
Butterflies need two types of plants: nectar sources for the adult butterflies and food sources for the caterpillars. Caterpillars in your butterfly garden are a good thing. Yes, they may eat your milkweed to the ground, but that’s why you planted milkweed!
Milkweeds, or other plants that get eaten by caterpillars, are “host plants.” And if you really want to attract butterflies, you’ll need lots of host plants. Most butterflies are very picky about where they’ll lay their eggs. If they lay their eggs on the wrong kind of plant, the larvae will die before they become an adult butterfly. So host plants are critically important.
By planting host plants, and enjoying the caterpillars, you’re creating a garden of paradise for butterflies. Host plants are as diverse as the butterflies. Our native emory oaks and gray oaks serve as the host plants for the Poling’s Hairstreak. Tiny skippers lay their eggs on native grasses, while sulphurs and blues prefer plants in the pea family such as sennas, daleas, and kidneywood. If you want to help with the conservation of monarch butterflies, be sure your garden is full of milkweeds.
Most (but not all) adult butterflies sip nectar from flowers. They prefer brightly colored flowers that are flat or have “landing platforms” for them to perch on as they feed, such as verbena, thistles, lantana, mistflower and salvias.
Butterflies also need bare spots or large flat stones where they can bask in the sun. If you can provide small patches of moist soil, you may see large numbers of butterflies congregating and feeding on the minerals in the soil.
As mentioned before, not all butterflies are nectar feeders. Some feed exclusively on rotting fruit. To attract these butterflies, suspend a large, flat dish from the branch of a tree. Place rotten bananas, the rind from melons, or other overripe fruit in the dish and watch the butterflies come. Fruit feeders include the glorious Red-spotted Purple, Mourning Cloaks and Hackberry Emperors.
If you plant lots of milkweeds and nectar sources, your butterfly garden may even qualify as a Monarch Way station. The Monarch Way station program encourages people across the United States to offset the loss of milkweeds and nectar sources in natural habitats by creating “way stations” in home gardens, schools, parks, along roadsides or on unused plots of lands. These way stations provide critical resources for the monarch butterflies as they make their annual migration from their summer homes in the north to their overwintering sites in Mexico and back again in the spring.
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Nature Notes presents natural wonders of the Chihuahuan Desert in this column every other week. Nature Notes is produced by the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute and Marfa Public Radio and is sponsored by the Meadows Foundation and the Dixon Water Foundation. Tune in to Nature Notes on KRTS-93.5 FM on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:35 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. and again on Thursdays at 7:06 p.m. Visit us online at naturenotesradio.org.
Story filed under: West Texas Talk