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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Learning About Butterflies

  As I touched on in my earlier post titled Three Years Later, creating a backyard habitat is a great way to invite back the native plant and wildlife species to your yard. Constant development displaces wildlife, so it’s important to do the best we can to help bring it back. It's no secret that I’m partial to birds, and attracting them to my backyard is a top priority, but I’m not stopping there.

Often unnoticed, butterflies play an important role in maintaining the balance in nature, and like birds, they provide lots of color and movement throughout the garden.

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So my newest project is just that - creating habitats for attracting butterflies.

Two weekends ago I attended a free class offered by a local nursery on butterfly gardening. As a result, I obtained lots of great information, as well as some new plants to add to my wish list. The downside is that my ever-growing list of plants to buy has now exceeded my wallet! Isn't that always the case? Regardless, the class was fun and very informative.

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To attract the largest variety of butterflies to your landscape provide a few host plants mixed in with their favorite nectar plants. Host plants, specific to each species, provide a place for butterflies to lay their eggs and provide food for the butterfly larva (caterpillars). The first time I experienced the effect of host plants was last summer when I noticed lots of little caterpillars on my carrot and parsley plants.

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Plants of the umbelliferae family (carrots, parsley, dill, fennel, etc) are great host plants for the Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars (shown above).

My daughter and I collected one of these caterpillars and placed it in an aquarium. We feed and watched it for several weeks until it emerged from its chrysalis stage into a gorgeous butterfly - pretty amazing!

Here are some more tips that I learned from my recent class:

  • Studies show that color, fragrance and shape of the flower as reasons for butterflies visiting specific flowers.
  • Butterflies like to conserve energy and therefore prefer plants that have clusters of flowers so they can sit and sip nectar without exerting much energy.
  • Provide water for butterflies by sinking a shallow birdbath or pail filled with sand into the ground. Fill it with water to the top of the sand layer  and place a few rocks or sticks in the sand for the butterflies to perch on.
  • Most butterflies don't lay their eggs all in one place, so provide host plants in various locations throughout the landscape.

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I still have lots more to learn on the subject of butterflies, so if you have some additional tips or favorite butterfly plants you want to tell me about please do so.

 

8 comments:

Janet said...

What fun Alan, great lesson for your daughter.

Dave said...

Butterflies are fun to watch. I know our girls sure like them! Butterfly weed is a great plant to attract them. Great pictures!

Darla said...

My daughter raised painted ladies one year and that was fun for the whole family. It is very easy for your plant list to exceed your wallet for sure. Great info, thanks for sharing. Wish I could get some Monarch eggs on my milkweeds.

Kelly said...

...great information. I know next to nothing about butterflies and really want to learn more about them. I'll stay tuned for future butterfly posts! I know they like milkweed and am trying to figure out where to get it. Maybe seeds at the nursery. Haven't checked into it yet.

The Early Birder said...

Hi Alan. I've just found your blog and enjoyed reading your various posts.
Attracting butterflies is great fun. You need a mixture of food sources from wild native plants; annual & biennial: herbaceous & shrubs plus the important larval food plants. You may find this link helpful: http://www.rhs.org.uk/Learning/Research/biodiversity/plantsforbutterflies.htm
Cheers Frank.

Les said...

We appreciate the link. I am going to forward this to Ann and hopefully it won't go to her head.

Alan said...

Hey Janet,
Yes it was a neat lesson for my daughter. She's ready to do it again this summer.

Dave,
Butterfly weed is one of the plants on my list to get. I have some seed but didn't get them started this spring.

Darla,
It's definitely a fun project for the family. Good luck with your milkweed.

Kelly,
I hope to be providing lots of updates & post on butterflies. We can learn together! More & more nursery's are carrying different varieties of milkweed now, so keep on the lookout.

Frank,
Thanks for stopping by & for the great info! I'm going to check out that link.

Les,
Not a problem. Please do forward to Ann if you don't think it will make her head swell. LOL!
It was a great class!

disa said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.