Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Beckon the Butterflies! by Donna Duffy

A couple of days ago, I was standing in the yard with my 6-year old neighbor, watching a butterfly flit around the garden. She was thoroughly entranced until the butterfly flew away. With a heavy sigh, she shook her head and said, “I just wish they would stay a little longer.”

It’s true, butterflies often seem to be just passing through our yards. You can prolong their visit by changing some of your gardening practices to provide them the food and shelter they are seeking.

Adult female butterflies search for food plants where they can lay eggs. Not just any plant will do – caterpillars of the monarch butterfly develop only on milkweed. The black swallowtail caterpillar feeds only on parsley, dill and closely related plants. So while you may have lots of lovely blooming flowers in your yard, they may not be beckoning the butterflies. If you provide the necessary food plants for developing caterpillars, you may have the opportunity to watch the butterfly in all stages of development.

Adult butterflies feed on sweet liquids (like honeydew produced by aphids) and nectar from flowers. Flowers with more nectar are better butterfly attractors.  When planning a butterfly garden, create a large patch of a nectar-rich flower species to attract and retain butterflies. Take a look at the CSU Extension Sheet #5.504, Attracting Butterflies to the Garden” for a comprehensive list of plants that provide food for caterpillars and nectar for adult butterflies. Consider planting some native plants in the mix.

On a historical note, butterflies were considered a symbol of hope during the Holocaust. In an effort to memorialize the 1.5 million Jewish children killed during the Holocaust, the Holocaust Museum in Houston is collecting 1.5 million handmade butterflies for a special exhibit in 2013. Check out the Butterfly Project website for information about the Butterfly Project and instructions on sending your handmade butterflies.