Butterfly Magic

Oregon Swallowtail on Prairie Coneflower
Oregon Swallowtail on a Prairie Coneflower in my garden.

Butterflies are such a magical part of a garden (it’s said that fairies disguise themselves as butterflies sometimes!) as are birds, beetles and bugs. Many wildflowers and other plants depend on butterflies for pollination: in the Southwest some species of Skippers feed on Yucca as larvae and act as the sole pollinator of the plan’t flowers when they bloom. Many butterflies are shy and rarely seen by humans, others are friendly and unafraid. Re Admirals will come and sit on your should day after day and Wood Nymphs will follow you down a woodland path. A flower we plant for one will no doubt be enjoyed by many. There is really no way to separate any part of the intricate and complex food web from any other part. So although the focus here is on butterflies and their needs, those things you do for them you do for every life form on the planet.

Some Special Notes on Butterfly Gardening

  • To get them to come – Plant a few of their favorite nectar plants.
  • To get them to stay – plant food for the larvae, or “host” plants.
  • Sunshine is critical for most butterflies. Put their favorite nectar plants in full sun if you can.
  • Most butterfly caterpillars do little damage to garden plants because they usually feed singly or in very small groups. The exceptions are: Cabbage butterfly (Whites) larvae, and the larvae of the beautiful black Swallowtail, which are fond of carrot tops, parsley and dill. Plant a little extra for them.
  • Garden sprays of ALL kinds are harmful to butterflies, birds, bees and other pollinators and beneficial insects.
  • Create a meadow if you can, or a small “wild” garden. These are the most attractive to butterflies.

    Wild Shooting Stars
    Wild Shooting Stars on the hillside. Hundreds bloom throughout the woods in spring.
  • Plant a good mix of wildflowers and garden flowers.
  • Fragrant flowers appeal to butterflies just as they do to humans.
  • Many butterflies travel only short distances form where they lived as caterpillars – so plant many “host” plants as well as nectar plants.
  • Water is an important need in the lives of many butterflies. A birdbath sunk in the ground with a sandy base and beach would be a most welcome feature! Or leave a faucet dripping slowly on a little patch of mud.
  • Provide a little patch of flagstone or a pile of dark rocks for them to sun on.
  • Many of the plants enjoyed by butterflies are appreciated by birds, bees and other pollinators and beneficial insects, as well. Plant for one and you plant for all!

Mass of low growing fall asters


“Butterflies add another dimension to the garden,

for they are like dream flowers-

childhood dreams-

which have broken loose from their stalks

and escaped into the sunshine”

M. Rothchild


Excerpt from The Holistic Garden by Barbara Allen – copyright 1992

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