Sunday, July 22, 2012


Our garden has been focused on growing plants to coordinate blooms for twelve-month interest. Throughout the years, it’s turned into a fabulous butterfly garden as well.

Sandy and I watch these beautiful and graceful winged creatures, some of which only live for a week, bring animation to our garden. As we learn more about them, their story becomes more interesting.

There are 670 species in the U.S. and Canada. In their short life as butterflies, they visit hundreds to thousands of flowers drinking nectar and pollinating plants. Only one of their larvae – caterpillars – might be considered a crop pest. The cabbage butterfly lays its eggs on young plants in the cabbage family and the larvae feed on the heads of these vegetables as they form.

There is a host plant on which each butterfly hatches, feeds and pupates from egg to caterpillar into adult. There are also nectar-producing flowers. So, you must grow flowers and host plants if you want to sustain their life cycle.
Monarch Caterpillar
Here are nectar-producing flowers:
• Black-eyed Susan, Maryland’s official state flower with golden yellow flowers throughout the summer,
• Butterfly weed or milkweed (Asclepias), both a perennial and host plant for monarchs,
• Goldenrod’s (Solidago) showy golden blooms aren’t an allergen and attract butterflies,
• Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium) has large flowers in August and September,
• Lavender (Lavandula) is evergreen, offering flowers for nectar,
• Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) also offers nectar,
• Sage (Salvia officinalis) enhances perennial borders and attracts butterflies with its flowers,
• Liatris keeps them busy,
• Verbena is enjoyed by every butterfly in our yard, with purple rounded clusters of flowers all summer, until first frost.

Butterflies cannot complete their life cycle without host plants. Monarchs will hatch and feed only on milkweed. They migrate 1000-2000 miles to the mountains of Mexico, resting on branches of fir trees, flying back in spring, mating along the way. The next generation will often complete the journey home.
 These plants serve as hosts:
Thistle, mallow and hollyhock – painted lady,
• Asters – pearly crescentspot,
• Oak, hickory, hops and sorrel – gray hairstreak,
• Spicebush and sassafras – spicebush swallowtail,
• Willow and poplar – viceroy,
• Parsley, dill and fennel – eastern black swallowtail,
• Plantain, cudweed and many others – buckeye,
• Wild cherry – tiger swallowtail.

Learn more about butterflies on the following Web sites:
North American Butterfly Association, 
 Monarch Butterfly Journey North,

Watching butterflies float, dip and drink their way through gardens adds animation to a space. Myths surrounding them are positive. There’s a Native American legend, “To make a wish come true, whisper to a butterfly. Upon these wings it will be taken to heaven and granted, for they are the messengers of the Great Spirit.”

Ensure winged beauty in your garden by:
• Locating space in a sunny area,
• Installing host plants and nectar producing flowers,
• Including shallow puddles for drinking and small flat rocks for them to bask in the sun,
• Not using pesticides in or near their habitat,
• Researching butterflies that frequent your area.

Enjoy a one on one experience with butterflies in the Washington, DC region by visiting:
Smithsonian Butterfly Garden, and
"Wings of Fancy" Live Butterfly & Caterpillar Exhibit,

©2012 Joel M. Lerner
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