Notes by Bill Finch
You’ve got to feed the young’uns if you want the adults (and they often need very different plants)
The young eat the leaves, the adults sip from flowers. Often, these are different plants. But adults spend much of their time looking for a place to lay their eggs, so providing a place for caterpillars to forage is sure to attract adults butterflies in good numbers.
What good does it do to have a “butterfly flowers” if no butterflies are around to partake?
Time your flowers to take advantage of the butterfly outbreak: Flowers in spring are nice, but the big butterfly season begins in late summer and in autumn.
Many butterfly plants you read about in books don’t live very well in our climate — buddleia, for example — but even if they do, they often aren’t blooming during the peak butterfly season.
Spring butterflies (before April 15) tend to be a little specialized (Falcate orangetips) and may focus on one type of plant that isn’t necessarily all that showy, like mustards. So your vegetable garden may attract more butterflies than a conventional butterfly garden.
American Summer butterflies (April 15 through June 15) become more widespread and diverse, and the common “butterfly plants” are often in full bloom, but I see fewer butterflies in gardens, maybe because the butterflies that are around are dispersing and have plenty to chew on elsewhere
Gulf Summer butterflies (June 14 through August 15) – this is when the big butterflies becomes really noticeable, particularly swallowtails. This is a great time to have butterfly attractants in the garden, but sadly, few of us do (the butterfly plants from Boston have long since quit blooming!)
Hurricane Summer and Fall butterflies (Aug 15 through Nov. 1) – this is the really big season for butterflies, and the time when you want to have plenty of flowers and foliage for them to feed on.
Some of the best butterfly plants are NOT “flowers.”
They’re often trees and shrubs and vines, some of which don’t produce conspicuous flowers at all.
Oaks, hickories, hackberries, red bay trees, sassafras, spicebush, black cberries, sweetbay magnolia, tulip poplar, white cedars, red cedars, paw paws, passionflowers,: These are among the very best butterfly host plants, but all of them are shrubs, trees or big-climbing vines that butterflies choose to lay their eggs and caterpillars will eat.
Butterflies have a dirty secret: They love mud almost as much as they love cow patties and rotten fruit.
Many people worry about providing water to butterflies. But truthfully, butterflies seem to like to drink from mudholes. Wouldn’t hurt to have a little wallow in your yard. Butterflies are attracted to rotting vegetables and fruits almost as much as flies are.
Plants with clusters of small flowers are often the most attractive to mature butterflies
With only a few exceptions, butterflies have short tongues, and that means they don’t like “deep” flowers (the kind of flowers that moths love). Butterfly flowers: Tend to be small and in clusters. Doesn’t mean they aren’t showy: they often are. Composites like wild sunflowers, black-eyed susans, eupatoriums, and others make good butterfly flowers, because each “flower” is actually dozens or hundreds of flowers packed together
Other good nectar plants for adult butterflies include:
Composite flowers including tickseeds, sunflowers, aster, eupatorium, mistflower, goldenrods, and many others.
Some Host Plants for Butterfly Larva
Plants in the citrus/rue family (Rutaceae): Giant Swallowtail and Schaus Swallowtail
Carrot family (including parsley, dill, Queen Anne’ Lace etc) Eastern Black Swallowtail
Laurel family (including Spicebush – Lindera benzoin, Tulip Tree – Liriodendron tulipifera, Sweet Bay – Magnolia viriniana, etc): Spicebush and Palamedea Swallowtails
Pawpaws (Asimina species): Zebra Swallowtail
Pipevines ( Aristolochia species): Pipevine Swallowtail
Passionflowers (Passiflora species): Gulf Fritillary and Zebra Longwing
Blueberries: Hairstreak butterflies
Pea family : Many Sulfur butterflies (Cloudless sulfurs need partridge pea, Southern Dogfacemay prefer swamp lead plant –Amorpha)
Mistletoe: Giant Purple Hairstreak
Sorrels and docks: Copper butterflies
False nettle, American ramie (Boehmeria) :Red Admirals, Commas, Question Marks
Asclepias (milkweed species):Monarch Butterfly
Hackberries (Celtis species): Emperor Butterfly
Thistles: Painted Lady
Figwort (false foxglove) and acanthaceae (ruellia, justicia, thunbergia, acanthus): Buckeye and Checkerspot butterflies
Asters (New England aster): Pearl Crescent
Crotons: Goatwing butterflies
Bamboo cane: Southern Pearly Eye and Creole Pearly Eye
White cedars (Junipers): Hessel’s Hairstreak
Red cedars: Juniper Hairstreak
Spring mustards: Falcate Orangetip
Resource Pages for more details
The Butterfly Site LIst of Butterflies in Alabama
University of Florida Search on Butterfly