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.

Fiery Skipper caterpillars are hosted by various grasses, such as Bermuda Grass, Crab grass and St Augustine grass

Fiery Skipper caterpillars are hosted by various grasses, such as Bermuda Grass, Crab grass and St Augustine grass

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.
Many legumes

Feeding Butterflies post

Gulf Fritillary feasting on Lantana. Photo by Patricia Pierce

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

Willows: Viceroy

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

Butterfly food post

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly. Photo by Patricia Pierce

Butterfly food post

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Photo by Patricia Pierce

Butterfly food post

Fiery Skipper on Buddleia. Photo by Patricia Pierce

Butterfly food Post

Red Admiral Butterfly. Photo by Patricia Pierce

Butterfly food post

Long Tailed Skipper. Photo by Patricia Pierce

Tuesday, September 8th, 10:30 am
Mark your calendar and make your reservations and buy your ticket for Tuesday morning after Labor Day!

Come for a talk by Harvey Cotten as he shares some of his favorite pollinator plants AND then shop for great MBG propagated butterfly & pollinator plants for your Gulf Coast gardens!

Harvey retired from Huntsville Botanical Garden last year after over 20 years during which the Garden grew from just 32 acres to 112 acres. Starting as a volunteer he played an integral part in the expansion as Executive Director, and is still active with their education programs and continuing development. He writes a weekly Gardening Column for the Huntsville Times and is a weekly guest on Noonday News on the local ABC affiliate. For more on Harvey visit his website (will open in new tab).

He will be bringing copies of his book “Easy Gardens for the South” for sale – co -authored with Pamela Crawford and Barbara Pleasant. This features over 150 plants, from annuals to trees, that require little care, providing lots of color while breezing through our hot, humid summers attracting butterflies, hummingbirds and wildlife. All tested by Harvey at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens!

10.30am – 11 am Refreshments will be provided by the Petal Pushers. Browse through our selection of plants for sale.
11am – 12 noon Harvey’s talk on host and nectar plants for butterflies and other pollinators
12 noon – 12.30pm or beyond… Harvey will have his book for sale, and you will have a good choice of plants in the Botanical Center and the Market Place.

$10 Members, $20 Nonmembers. Reservations requested

Questions? Contact the office at 251.342.0555 or email us with Subject line: Harvey Cotten Talk.

Thanks to Patricia Pierce for the use of her photo.