“Beautiful and graceful, varied and enchanting, small but approachable, butterflies lead you to the sunny side of life. And everyone deserves a little sunshine.”
There are many, many people who love to watch butterflies as they flit through the air slowly and gracefully. If you never have, you certainly should! Butterflies provide beauty in an often ugly world. They give us insight into the world of nature and how wonderful and complex it is. But the butterfly is much more than that.
Humans need butterflies. Often unnoticed, they play an important role in maintaining the balance of nature and health of the living world. Butterflies pollinate wild plants and our crops, ensuring the production of seeds and fruits required for the continued survival of plants and animals, including humans.
Due to their fragility to ecological change, butterflies are elegant indicators of ecosystem health. Plus, Butterflies are a valuable source of food for songbirds.
There are over 17,000 species of butterflies worldwide – 7,000 of which are in North America alone. Butterflies weigh as little as 2 rose petals, but they can fly worldwide. But their habitats are being threatened by deforestation and urban development. Because of this, there are many species that are beginning to become endangered and die away completely.
Legend and mythology also attribute certain mystical attributes to the common butterfly. An Irish blessing goes: “May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun, and find your shoulder to light on to bring you luck, happiness and riches today, tomorrow and beyond.”
Poets also have embraced the butterfly as an inspiration to write.
A Butterfly Hovers Closely
A butterfly hovers closely
And then quickly moves away,
Swiftly going where so ever
Her heart may freely say.
A butterfly lowers and rises
With the wind’s gusty breath,
As if coupled within a dance
Of a loving tenderness.
The butterfly only knows
How it feels to have wings,
To kiss the petals of flowers
In such elegant flitterings.
To have but one moment
Of such an exquisite flight,
Would be like a dream
Where all seems so right.
Brightly colored butterflies can be a welcome addition to your Backyard Wildlife Habitat landscape. Butterfly gardening has become one of the most popular hobbies today. What could bring more joy than a beautiful butterfly fluttering around your garden?! You don’t really need a special garden to attract butterflies. If there are plants in your garden that appeal to them, butterflies will find them. A true butterfly garden should not just be designed to attract adult butterflies, but also to afford a place for them to hibernate and lay eggs and for the larva, or caterpillars, to feed. Different species of butterflies have different preferences in plants. The flittering of the butterfly through your garden is no accident if you plan your garden carefully. The adult butterfly flitters from flower to flower – sipping nectar from many flowers in your gardens, while other adult butterflies search for areas to lay their larvae. By creating the atmosphere in the garden that offers the shelter, food, water and the fragrance the butterfly is searching for you will have butterfly garden success.
But how do you do that? Creating a garden environment that will attract butterflies is actually quite easy. It just involves knowing a little bit about what types of plants butterflies like, how to maintain those plants, and that’s about it!
Inside the pages of this book, you’ll learn about those plants, how to cultivate them for maximum attractiveness, and make your garden a place where butterflies can fly free. We’ll also give you a guide to the various common types of butterflies including pictures and specifics so you can decide which type of butterfly you want to see when you are in your garden. The symbolism and mythology of butterflies is also deep in heritages, so we’ll look a little bit at that as well.
It’s not as complicated as you think it might be. Let’s get started learning “How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden”.
WHY SHOULD YOU ATTRACT BUTTERFLIES?
Besides the obvious reason that they are simply beautiful, there are a myriad of other reasons why you may want these flittering creatures to come to your garden. These reasons are both practical as well as mystical when you consider the role of the butterfly in the ecosystem as well as the symbolic representation of butterflies throughout different cultures. We think that’s the most interesting part about attracting butterflies – what they mean and symbolize in history. We’ll look at that part first. You may be quite surprised and learn a bit in the process!
Butterflies have inspired humankind since antiquity, not just for their decorative value but also as spiritual beings, symbolic of metamorphosis, rebirth, love, hope, and freedom. This is the only book that explores the butterfly’s role in myth, religion, literature, art, and the decorative arts, and includes magnificent pictures ranging from ancient stone carvings to modern furniture, Pompeian mosaics to Sevres porcelain.
Butterflies apparently have a great deal to do with luck, both good and bad. “In Louisiana it is thought that good luck will follow shortly after a white butterfly flies into your house and flies around you.” However, the same action is an omen of death in Maryland.
The life cycle of butterflies and moths has been used in many cultures to represent many things. The hatching from the egg is the equivalent of human birth. The caterpillar represents the stage of life; the lowly “worm” waiting for a transformation, just as we await our reward in an afterlife.
Another metamorphosal symbol is inherent to the chrysalis (pupa) or cocoon. This is the “magical closet” where the amazing transformation will take place. It is the protective covering which will provide refuge for the changeling. The pupa or cocoon is a natural symbol for protection.
Metamorphosis of butterflies and moths is one of the mysteries of Nature. The ability of these insects to change from the crawling caterpillar to the flying adult is almost magical. Many people are so awe inspired by the metamorphosis that they believe that butterflies and moths could never have evolved over millions of years without a God behind it.
The butterfly exists in four distinct forms. Some consider that so do we: The fertilized egg is planted in our mother’s womb. From our day of birth we are like the caterpillar which can only eat and creep along. At death we are like the dormant pupa in its chrysalis. After that, our consciousness emerges from the cast off body, and some see in this the emergence of the butterfly. Therefore, the butterfly is symbolic of rebirth after death.
For Christians, the butterfly’s three steps of metamorphosis — as caterpillar, pupa and then winged insect — are reminiscent of spiritual transformation.
The caterpillar’s incessant crawling and chewing reminds us of normal earthly life where people are often wholly preoccupied with physical needs. The chrysalis (cocoon) resembles a tomb and empty, can suggest the empty shroud left behind by Jesus. Therefore, a butterfly represents the resurrection into a new condition of life that is free of any material concerns.
In images of the Garden of Eden, Adam’s soul is symbolized by a butterfly, or drawn with butterfly wings. In paintings of Mary and her Child, the presence of butterflies stands for their care for human souls. The Gnostics depicted the Angel of Death by showing a winged foot stepping on a butterfly.
Since the insect is so fragile it can be torn apart by a hard rain, the butterfly stands for human frailty, both moral and physical. Also, as its life is not a long one, it is also a symbol of the ephemeral nature of physical existence. A butterfly with a torn wing is the icon for a North American charity that benefits disabled children. The butterfly is also a symbol of woman’s delicacy. It can serve as a reminder to treat her with gentleness. In Japan, a beautiful woman wearing a kimono is often compared to a butterfly.
In Pre-Hispanic, Mexican Indian culture, the butterfly is one of the symbolic representatives of Tlaloc, god of rain. The fantastic stone heads that jut out from the bas-relief background of the pyramid of Quetzacoatl are carved in the same spirit (human form to geometric forms) although on a smaller scale. They represent symbolic combinations, alternately of jaguars and snakes, and of the stylized features of the rain god and the butterfly, which was considered one of his symbolic representatives.
Butterflies symbolize witches and fairies, but they also symbolize the soul of witches. Both butterflies and witches have the ability to change their form; butterflies change in the course of their development, witches allegedly can change at will.
The Serbians look on the butterfly as the soul of a witch and believe if they can find her body and turn it around while she is asleep, the soul will not be able to find her mouth and reenter, and the witch will probably die. Probably, this concept of the soul explains why many medieval angels have butterfly wings rather than those of a bird
Perhaps the most prominent association of the butterfly with the soul is with Psyche.
The myth of Psyche originated in the Orient. A Myth said the Rhetors (mere talkers) is “an untrue narrative representing truth.” This myth is a good example of approaching “profound realities of Nature by poetic intuition.” “Its secret sense shows through thanks to the symbolism of the butterfly.”
By her beauty, Psyche has aroused the jealousy of Venus. She had seduced Eros himself. Carried away by Zephyre into a flowery valley, she lived there in a dream Palace. Each night she greeted there a lover that she was not supposed to see.
On the false-hearted advice of her sisters, giving in to curiosity, she came once with a lamp, to see the one who shared her bed. A drop of oil fell on the god who took flight. Thus began the terrible afflictions from which the unfortunate one could escape only thanks to the complicity of Love. When she had surmounted them her wedding was celebrated in Olympia and she was admired at the banquet of the gods.
Now in Greek, Psyche signifies at the same time soul and butterfly. The myth was interpreted by playing on this double sense. It became the story of the soul touched by divine love, but which, by reason of the mistakes made, must undergo some tribulations before having access to happy immortality. The night butterfly [the moth] attracted by the flame, like the soul attracted by heavenly truths, burns in the flame, reflection of the trials that must be endured to eliminate the fleshy sink-stones before knowing the joys of the beyond.
Mythology and symbolism aside, Butterflies are beautiful. Butterflies are inspiring. They can be quite magical, helping us to connect with nature, as well as with our spiritual selves.
Yet butterflies are disappearing everywhere right before our very eyes. When uncaring human activities get out of hand, it is always the butterflies that take the first and most profound blow.
Studies have shown that when rainforests are destroyed, or local temperatures rise, or chemicals and pesticides contaminate our environment, or natural habitats are lost, it is almost always the butterfly that suffers most. For these reasons they serve as environmental indicators, and stewardship of butterflies becomes linked to such serious issues as habitat destruction, pesticide misuse, global warming, genetically engineered foods, and deforestation.
When in the caterpillar stage, the (eventual) butterfly will eat pests that can threaten the livelihood of your garden. As we have already pointed out to you, Butterflies pollinate wild plants and our crops, ensuring the production of seeds and fruits required for the continued survival of plants and animals, including humans. Because they are fragile, they can indicate the health of our ecosystems and butterflies are valuable sources of food for songbirds.
So the benefits of attracting butterflies to your garden abound. Perhaps it will help you if you begin by understanding the life cycle of the butterfly.
A BUTTERFLY’S LIFE
Butterflies start life as eggs laid on plants. The egg consists of an outer casing, or chorion, inside which is the female’s fertilized ovum. There is always a minute opening, the micropyle, which is visible as a small pit at the top of some eggs.
This structure allows the male sperm to fertilize the egg and probably allows the developing embryo to breathe. Sometimes eggs are laid singly, at other times they may be in bunches
The eggs take a variable amount of time to hatch; indeed some butterflies remain as eggs through the winter, only hatching when the warmth of spring arrives. I guess they are less likely to be eaten when very small and easy to miss. Usually it takes about 10 days for an egg to hatch. There is an easy exit for the tiny first caterpillar to escape from the confines of its egg.
These eggs hatch into very tiny caterpillars, or larva, which start eating immediately. First they eat their egg shell which is the fuel for their journey to find the food plant. It also may be the only meal they have before winter and without it, they won’t survive. Then they begin feeding on their host plant. Unlike adult butterflies which feed on nectar, caterpillars prefer the leaves of plants. At this stage, the butterfly is capable of defoliating your butterfly garden.
A caterpillar is an eating machine. It consists of a pair of jaws or mandibles for chewing plant matter followed by a long gut for digestion. It moves using three pairs of true legs (like all insects) and five further pairs of ‘pro legs’, sucker like structures with hooks on the end for gripping hold of the leaves and stems.
Along the side of the larva are small openings, spiracles, nine pairs in all, through which respiration occurs. A modified set of salivary glands, spinnerets, produce silk. All butterfly larvae are hairy, some quite spectacularly covered with bushes of setae, and they may well be off-putting to potential predators.
When first hatched the larva or caterpillar is very small indeed, just a few millimeters long. These first larvae look similar regardless of which species they belong to. Usually the caterpillar immediately searches out food and starts to eat, although some species over winter at this stage.
Due to the nature of the skeleton of insects they cannot grow in the same way that we do. Every so often the caterpillar sheds its skin so that it can expand and grow to a larger size. This process is known as ecdysis and each time it happens, the caterpillar moves on to a new instar. Most European species molt four times and so their final stage is usually the fifth instar.
Caterpillars feed for a large part of their time, consuming an ever increasing amount of food plant as they get rapidly larger. Some species prefer the cover of night to avoid unwanted attention, the Comma, Polygonia c-album, spends most of its time underneath leaves for the same reason. Their excrement, usually called frass, is dropped all over the place in small lumps.
Caterpillars produce a silken thread from organs beside their jaws. This is used for a variety of purposes. It gives the caterpillars a good hold on their food plant and some use it to rest between bouts of feeding.
When a caterpillar is fully grown it takes time to wander in search of a suitable pupation site. This stage is sometimes known as the pre-pupa. The larva will let all frass clear its system before pupation.
Different families pupate in different ways. A Nymphalid (left) spins a silken pad and hangs head down using its anal claspers to grip on. A Pierid (right) however spins a pad then attaches itself with head upwards, spinning a silken girdle for support.
A short while after the larva has attached itself the change to a pupa begins. It is thought a hormone is introduced into the system to begin this process.
The word chrysalis is derived from a Greek word meaning gold, referring to the color of some Nymphalid pupae, whereas pupa is the scientific word describing this stage of a butterflies life.
Once the caterpillar has transformed into a pupa a remarkable process occurs transforming the contents of the pupa into an adult butterfly. This can take as little as two weeks, but some species over-winter (hibernate) in this stage, only hatching in the warmth of spring. As the pupa is unable to avoid any potential predators they tend to be quite well camouflaged, indeed some are form under the ground.
The pupa hangs onto the silken pad using its cremaster, rather than the anal claspers of the caterpillar.
Just before the adult butterfly hatches the pupal skin becomes transparent and the wing pattern is visible inside.
The chrysalis splits to allow the adult butterfly to emerge. Much like the birthing process, the butterfly pushes itself out of its cocoon to re-enter the world as a butterfly. Its body is filled with fluid which will be pumped into the wings.
Shortly after the wings have been pumped full of fluid and dried, all the leftover products of the metamorphosis are excreted. This is normally a reddish fluid, the meconium, and has given rise to fables of showers of blood when many butterflies hatch together.
With that, the metamorphosis is complete and butterfly flies off in search of food and host plant for laying its own eggs. It’s an amazing process that says a lot about the power of life and nature.
I know you want to be able to see this process for yourself! This is probably one of the reasons why you want a butterfly garden. It’s an amazing teaching tool for children and adults alike!
So now, where do you start with your butterfly garden? With a well-thought out plan!
PLANNING YOUR BUTTERFLY GARDEN
If you are contemplating the construction of a butterfly garden, take a few moments to assess your resources. How much time are you willing (and able) to invest in planting and maintaining your garden? How much money do you want to spend? Is the garden intended to be a formal or informal one? Are you going to provide butterfly nectar plants, caterpillar food plants, or both? How are you going to deal with pest problems without pesticides? Are you willing to discourage insect-feeding birds (no nest boxes or berry bushes)?
The answers to these questions will help you determine the size and scope of your butterfly garden.
Another step should be to find out which butterflies are in your area. You can do this by spending some time outdoors with your field guide and a pair of binoculars to see which species are around you. Plan to spend around 4-5 hours between mid-morning and early afternoon trying to spot butterflies over a three day period. If you’re serious about this, it’ll be well worth it!
Check the Internet as well to find out which butterflies are naturally abundant in your area.
We’ll have a whole separate section on plants that attract butterflies.
Most butterflies prefer some shelter from high winds. At the same time, they like open, sunny areas. Windbreak plantings or other means of sheltering the butterfly garden can help provide a suitable physical environment.
Certain kinds of butterflies (mostly males) often can be seen on moist sand or mud collecting around puddles of water where they feed. The function of these “mud-puddle clubs” is not fully understood, but it is thought that the water contains dissolved minerals needed by the insects. Maintaining a damp, slightly salty area in the yard may attract groups of these butterflies.
When planning a garden, create a large patch of a flower species to attract and retain butterflies. Consider flowers that bloom in sequence. This is particularly important during summer when flower visiting by butterflies is most frequent.
Map your yard and choose the spot that receive the least amount of wind and maximum sunshine. You’ll also want to take into consideration the growing requirements of the plants you will be putting in along with their growing needs.
Plant your butterfly garden in a sunny location (5-6 hours each day), but sheltered from the winds. Butterflies need the sun to warm themselves, but they won’t want to feed in an area where they are constantly fighting the wind to stay on the plants. Afternoon sun will not only bring in lots of butterflies, but will provide glorious light for viewing and photographing them. It’s a plus if you can watch from your kitchen or living room window.
Your location should be calm and relatively undisturbed – meaning only occasional visits by humans. the more natural the area the greater the number and diversity of butterflies attracted.
Provide cover and shelter such as broad-leaved trees, shrubs, and log piles. You also want to have several landing pads or sunbathing perches in open and sunny areas throughout the garden. Butterflies rely to a large degree on thermal heating and sunbathe in these open spots. These are most often a variety of large varied sizes of stones that can be used for decorative purposes as well.
Determine what type of soil you have. Is it sandy, clay, wetland, well-drained, or very dry? This is very important to know when you select the plants. It’s a good idea to have the soil tested. This will provide you with valuable insight into the chemical makeup and condition (texture) of your soil.
The soil testing lab will gladly provide you with suggestions for improving soil fertility and drainage, if needed. This can also make a difference in what types of plants will be able to thrive in your garden.
What types of trees are in the area? This is important since most moth larvae eat tree leaves; leaves are also the food plant for some of the swallowtails and the mourning cloak. Some trees also produce flowers attractive to adult butterflies. There are specific trees called butterfly trees that can draw hundreds and hundreds of butterflies to it. These include birch trees and red oaks.
Butterflies need water just like we do. Keep a mud puddle damp in a sunny location, or fill a bucket with sand and enough water to make the sand moist. Periodically saturate the sand to keep it moist. You can also bury the bucket in the ground for aesthetic purposes and provide access to it by surrounding it with some small rocks. Male butterflies appreciate a patch of wet sand or dirt. They sip salts and other minerals from the sand, a behavior known as “puddling”. The minerals are passed on in a sperm packet during mating, to enrich the eggs.
In you want to include the use of butterflies in your landscape you will need to create a safety zone for your butterflies to feel safe. Butterflies frequent habitual zones, where they feel safe and where areas of the landscape meet with the tree lines.
Creating your butterfly gardens near or around trees will help in attracting even more of these graceful creatures to your gardens. You should also consider hedges; groups of small trees or shrubs; or walls, fences, trellises covered with vines.
Butterflies are attracted to areas of your gardens where they can gather food for their offspring. The caterpillar will eat from the plants while the adult butterflies will sip on the nectar of the flowers.
As your plants, shrubs, and flowers mature, the amount of butterflies to your gardens will also increase. The plants and flowers that you put in your garden this year will attract only a few, but in the years to come the natural instinct of the butterfly will lead them to your garden.
What is the adult butterfly searching for in your gardens? The butterfly searches for areas to take shelter from the high winds, the rains, and the summer storms. This is where the trees and shrubs in your gardens become important in protecting the butterfly and offering shelter. During the normal, warm sunny summer day the butterfly wants the wide-open areas of your lawn and garden.
Butterflies will seek soft soil that is sandy-like to find water. The sand-like soil that allows water to puddle up after a rainstorm is a butterfly’s delight. The developing stages of the caterpillar to the butterfly are observed often in the established butterfly garden.
Butterflies don’t need anything fancy or expensive: just a large, open, sun-filled area; some flowers, for adults; some food sources, for caterpillars; shelter; puddles; and rocks. You might consider planting an herb garden if you enjoy herbs – many butterfly species do too.
So now you have the location and a plan put in place for your garden. The next step is to figure out what plants you want to put in to attract butterflies.
PLANTS TO ATTRACT BUTTERFLIES
To attract the greatest number of butterflies and have them as residents in your yard you will need to have plants that serve the needs of all life stages of the butterfly. They need a place to lay eggs, food plants for the larva (caterpillar), a place to form a chrysalis, and nectar sources for the adult.
Most adult butterflies live 10-20 days. Some, however, are believed to live no longer than three or four days, while others, such as over wintering monarchs, may live six months.
Butterfly tarsi or “feet” possess a sense similar to taste. Contact with sweet liquids such as nectar causes the proboscis to uncoil. Millions of shingle-like, overlapping scales give butterfly wings their color and patterns. Metallic, iridescent hues come from faceted scales that refract light; solid colors are from pigmented scales.
During the time from hatching to pupating (forming the pupa or chrysalis), the caterpillar may increase its body size more than 30,000 times. The chrysalises or pupae of many common gossamer wings – a group of butterflies which includes the blues, hairstreaks and elfins – are capable of producing weak sounds. By flexing and rubbing together body segment membranes, sounds are generated that may frighten off small predators and parasites.
In order to make a yard more attractive to butterflies, you need to provide the proper environment. Most important are food plants used by the immature stages (various caterpillars), food sources used by the adult butterflies, and physical environment.
Adult female butterflies spend time searching for food plants required by the immature caterpillar stage. Most butterflies have specific host plants on which they develop. For example, caterpillars of the monarch butterfly develop only on milkweed, while the black swallowtail feeds only on parsley, dill and closely related plants. When females find the proper host plant, they may lay eggs on it.
Providing the necessary food plants for the developing caterpillars also allows production of a “native” population that can be observed in all stages of development. Most species, however, fly away as adult butterflies.
Plants that attract butterflies can be divided into two categories; those that attract adults, and those that are food plants for butterfly larvae (Caterpillars). To attract more than just the passing wanderer, plant a good mix from both categories.
By providing plants that the caterpillars can feed on, you will surely have butterflies come and stay. Please remember that Caterpillars will eat the foliage of these plants; therefore, you must accept the damage and forgo the insecticides.
Adults searching for nectar are attracted to:
- red, yellow, orange, pink, or purple blossoms
- flat-topped or clustered flowers
- short flower tubes
Short flower tubes allow the butterflies to reach the nectar with their proboscis. Nectar-producing plants should be grown in open, sunny areas, as adults of most species rarely feed on plants in the shade.
Many caterpillars are picky eaters. They rely on only one or two species of plants. The caterpillar of the giant swallowtail butterfly in the northeast and Mid-Atlantic States feed on just two native plant foods – Northern prickly ash and hop tree. Others, such as the red-spotted purple, will feed on a variety of deciduous trees.
Food for adult butterflies usually consists of sweet liquids, such as nectar from flowers that provide energy. Some flowers contain more nectar, and are more attractive to butterflies. Often, specific types of flowers and flower colors also are more attractive. Some species feed on honeydew (produced by aphids), plant sap, rotting fruit and even bird dung.
To attract butterflies to your garden, you need the flowers that produce the nectar that butterflies drink. Nectar is the butterfly’s main source of food. To raise butterflies in your garden you need to grow the plants that caterpillars eat.
There are certain plants that will attract caterpillars. If you want to observe the caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly, plant these and let them come.
- Passion Vine
- Wild Senna
- Wild Lilacs
- Wild Plums and Cherries
- Aspens and Willows
- Wild Lime
As far as adult butterflies, they will stay in your garden for longer periods of time if you have plants for them to lay their eggs on.
Patches of plants that flower at the same time are more attractive to butterflies than a single plant with a few flowers.
Plant your flowers in sunny places and provide some rocks or stone walls where they can “bask” in the morning to warm up.
Provide a few sheltered areas, like shrubbery or brush piles to protect them from wind and rain, and provide caterpillars a nice place to pupate.
You should plant more than one source of nectar. Planting a variety of nectar sources will encourage more butterflies to visit the garden.
Here are some nectar bearing plants that usually attract adult butterflies:
- Bee balm
- Butterfly bush
- Butterfly plant
- Bush cinquefolia
- Ornamental thistles
- Rabbit brush
- Sweet pea
Bright colors seem to attract more butterflies, but more importantly, large swaths of color will make it easier for them to find your garden.
You may want to include the aptly-named butterfly bush. This large shrub (up to 10 feet) is a magnet to butterflies. In mild-winter areas, its delicate silver foliage adds a pleasing contrast to evergreens.
You should cut back to about 18″ in late winter because it will grow quickly! In a small garden stick to one of the dwarf varieties which reach about five feet (Nanho blue, petite indigo and others). Buddleia is now considered an invasive plant in coastal areas. Watch for and remove seedlings. If you live near a natural area, plant an alternative such as native wild lilac.
Deadheading spent blossoms on Buddleia and flowers like marigold will encourage new blooms and prolong your garden’s butterfly appeal.
If you can spare a corner out of the garden limelight, encourage dandelions and clover; these humble plants are attractive nectar sources. Don’t tidy up too much, either.
A few rotten apples left under your tree might entice a Red Admiral to stop and eat. This striking butterfly supplements its diet with amino acids from decaying fruit, even animal scat. A brush or wood pile can give shelter to over wintering adults and larvae of several species.