There are dozens of myths and beliefs surrounding the lives of butterflies. From legends to mythology, many mystical qualities are attributed to the common butterfly. However it is their radiant and colorful beauty that has brought butterfly gardening to the forefront of hobbies for people from all walks of life.
There are a myriad of reasons for wanting these flittering creatures to be a part of your gardens. Butterflies have inspired humankind since antiquity, not just for their decorative value but also as spiritual beings, symbolic of metamorphosis, rebirth, love, hope, and freedom.
The life cycle of butterflies and moths has been used in many cultures to represent many things. The hatching from the egg is the equivalent of human birth. The caterpillar represents the stage of life; the lowly “worm” waiting for a transformation, just as we await our reward in an afterlife.
For Christians, the butterfly’s three steps of metamorphosis — as caterpillar, pupa and then winged insect — are reminiscent of spiritual transformation.
If you are one of the millions of people who have cultivated butterfly gardening into their busy lives, here are some tips to guide you along the way.
Basically, butterflies have a tendency to find plants that appeal to them. However, a true butterfly garden should not just be designed to attract adult butterflies, but also to afford a place for them to hibernate and lay eggs and for the larva, or caterpillars, to feed.
To attract the greatest number of butterflies and have them as residents in your yard you will need to have plants that serve the needs of all life stages of the butterfly. They need a place to lay eggs, food plants for the larva (caterpillar), a place to form a chrysalis, and nectar sources for the adult. Most adult butterflies live 10-20 days. Some, however, are believed to live no longer than three or four days, while others, such as over wintering monarchs, may live six months.
By providing plants that the caterpillars can feed on, you will surely have butterflies come and stay. Please remember that caterpillars will eat the foliage of these plants; therefore, you must accept the damage and forgo the insecticides.
Adults searching for nectar are attracted to:
1. Red, yellow, orange, pink, or purple blossoms
2. Flat-topped or clustered flowers
3. Short flower tubes
Short flower tubes allow the butterflies to reach the nectar with their proboscis. Nectar-producing plants should be grown in open, sunny areas, as adults of most species rarely feed on plants in the shade.
Many caterpillars are picky eaters. They rely on only one or two species of plants. The caterpillar of the giant swallowtail butterfly in the northeast and Mid-Atlantic States feed on just two native plant foods – Northern prickly ash and hop tree. Others, such as the red-spotted purple, will feed on a variety of deciduous trees.
Food for adult butterflies usually consists of sweet liquids, such as nectar from flowers that provide energy. Some flowers contain more nectar, and are more attractive to butterflies. Often, specific types of flowers and flower colors also are more attractive. Some species feed on honeydew (produced by aphids), plant sap, rotting fruit and even bird dung. To attract butterflies to your garden, you need the flowers that produce the nectar that butterflies drink. Nectar is the butterfly’s main source of food. To raise butterflies in your garden you need to grow the plants that caterpillars eat.
There are certain plants that will attract caterpillars. If you want to observe the caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly, the following plants will be of great help:
2 Passion Vine
4 Wild Senna
10 Wild Lilacs
11 Wild Plums and Cherries
15 Aspens and Willows
19 Wild Lime
As far as adult butterflies, they will stay in your garden for longer periods of time if you have plants for them to lay their eggs on.
Photo. Paul Brennan