How to Attract Butterflies 1

Your Landscape & You

Attract Butterflies to Your Yard

Who doesn’t love to see butterflies flitting around their gardens?

We are awed by their beauty, and charmed by the way they never seem to go in a straight line between two destinations. It is natural that people want to buy plants that attract butterflies to their gardens. I just wish they woundn’t plant Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia davidii).

Yes, butterflies are attracted to Buddleia to feed on nectar. The problem is that Buddleia is an exotic invasive plant. Exotic means it is a plant that evolved someplace else. According to Michael Dirr the countries unquestioned authority on landscape trees and shrubs, both Buddleia davidii and Buddleia alternifolia are native to China. The real problem is that Butterfly Bush is invasive. That means it doesn’t just stay in your yard. It produces seed, and those seeds travel. They can be wind blown or carried by birds or other animals to other locations. At the LeHigh Gap Nature Center they have volunteer work days to remove it from their preserve. When an exotic invasive plant invades our local ecosystem it takes the place of a native plant. As more and more exotic invasive plants replace native plants in our yards and in our preserved natural areas, the habitat is compromised. Our indigenous butterflies and other wildlife decline in population. Many birds and other wildlife are even going extinct.

 It helps to know about the life cycle of butterflies. I’ll use the example of the Monarch butterfly to illustrate exactly how this works. A Monarch butterfly lays her eggs on milkweed (Asclepias). The Monarch caterpillar developes from the egg, and munches on the Asclepias. The milkweed is called the larval food or the host plant by scientists. The caterpillar then creates a covering around itself, called the pupal case. Then the magic happens. A butterfly emerges from the case. The butterfly then feeds on nectar from flowers. They are able to get nectar from many different types of flowers, but it has to have milkweed to lay its eggs on, it is the only thing the caterpillar can eat. No milkweed, no Monarchs. I would like to recommend some substitutions for Butterfly Bush.

Host Plants for Butterflies
(Caterpiller Food)

Common Name Latin Name Description Height
Redosier Dogwood Cornus sericea White flowers, White fruit, Red Winter stems 7-9′
Spicebush Lindera benzoin Yellow flowers in early Spring, Red fruit on female plants, Yellow Fall leaf color 6-12′
Flame Azalea Rhododendron calendulaceum Traffic stopping orange flowers in May and June, Deciduous, Good Fall color 4-8′
Highbush Blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum White flowers, Blueberries, Brilliant Fall leaf color 6-12′
Arrowwood Viburnum Viburnum dentatum White flowers, Blue fruit 6-15′
Mapleleaf Viburnum Viburnum acerifolium White flowers, Black fruit, Glowing Pink/Red/Purple Fall leaf color 2-6′

Favorite Perennials for Butterflies

Common Name Latin Name Description Height
Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata Pink flowers, Nector & Host 2-4′
New York Ironweed Vernonia noveboracensis Purple flowers, Nector 4-8′
Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa Pink flowers, Nector 3-4′
Summer Phlox Phlox paniculata Pink, White, or Purple flowers, Nector 3-5′
Sneezeweed Helenium autumnale Yellow, or Rust flowers, Nector 3-5′
New England Aster Aster novae-angliae Pink or Purple flowers, Nector & Host 2-6′
Joe-Pye Weed Eupatorium fistulosum Mauve flowers, Nector 3-8′
White Turtlehead Chelone glabra White flowers, Nector & Host 3′

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