Perfect Plants for Attracting Butterflies

Follow this guide to plant a garden that will help attract more butterflies to your yard.

| April 2018

  • These Eastern Tiger Swallowtails pull nectar from the outer edge of a sunflower where the flower's florets are more open.
    Copyright © John Flannery under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license
  • Fall phlox is native to half of the United States, and very popular among butterflies.
    Photo courtesy of Princeton University Press
  • “Butterfly Gardening” by Jane Hurwitz guides readers through planting a garden that will bring more butterflies to their backyard.
    Photo courtesy of Princeton University Press

Butterfly Gardening (Princeton University Press, 2018) by Jane Hurwitz helps beginners and exerts alike to transform their yard into a butterfly oasis. Hurwitz even breaks her guide down into regions, so that every gardener across the country can find the perfect plants for their specific location. In the following excerpt, she discusses what types of flowers attract different species of butterflies.

Just observing flowers in a garden on a warm, sunny summer day will show you which flowers attract butterflies. Since different species of butterflies are in flight at varying times over the course of the warmer months, a single visit to a garden or garden center will not give you the knowledge needed to plan an effective butterfly garden, but it can be a valuable exercise in fi ne-tuning your plant choices once you have established a basic garden.

Think like a butterfly and consider the following features of flower morphology when considering a nectar plant for your garden:

Flower shape and arrangement: Some flowers are shaped in a way that allows butterflies to reach their nectar, but not all. Butterflies with long tongues, such as swallowtails and many skippers, can access nectar from deep flowers. Smaller butterflies tend to have shorter tongues and will seek out shorter flowers. Flower heads that comprise many smaller flowers allow butterflies to land and drink without having to expend energy to fly to adjacent flowers. When planning a garden for butterflies, start by choosing plants that among them have a variety of different-shaped flowers, so that different-sized butterflies will be able to find nectar. Some of the most widespread and popular butterfly nectar plants include the following:

• Plants in the Aster Family such as purple coneflowers, blazing stars, goldenrods, and sunflowers. Plants in the huge Aster Family feature many small, nectar-producing flowers in each flower head. The small flowers, called florets, open in sequence so that any one flower head includes nectar-producing flowers at various stages from unopened (and not yet producing nectar) to beginning to open (and maybe not producing abundant nectar) to fully open, ready-to-pollinate florets (an irresistible feast of nectar), and finally to a pollinated floret (exhibiting an “expired sell-by date” to pollinators). When a butterfly lands on an Aster Family flower, it may be able to drink from many florets without having to move anything other than its tongue.

• Plants in the Mint Family, such as beebalms, giant hyssops, and mountainmints, are butterfly magnets. Unlike culinary mint, which can spread vigorously by underground stems, beebalms and mountain-mints tend to be slower in their colonization and are easy to pull out if they spread beyond their designated spots. Giant hyssops may spread by seed if conditions are right, but do not spread by underground stems. All three of these Mint Family plants bloom over a long period and produce many flowers per plant. Mountainmint flowers tend to be small and are a favorite with small butterflies such as hairstreaks.

11/6/2018 1:50:25 PM

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