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Observations on Butterfly Gardening

by Ann Chudleigh

The delicate beauty and dancing flight of butterflies should not be taken for granted because if their habitats are destroyed, they risk extinction. Even now butterflies are threatened by increasing urbanization and mowed highway verges which destroy their breeding and nectaring grounds; climate change and the rough weather it brings; and the continued use by farmers of pesticides, insecticides and BT, a larvicide. To say nothing of diseases and predators that occur normally.

You can help by welcoming butterflies to your garden. Here are four basic requirements for a butterfly garden: sun - so that the butterflies can maintain their body temperatures above 70"F so they can fly, and wind protection so they do not waste energy as they feed, mate and lay eggs. Do not use pesticides, insecticides, larvicides or even slug pellets as they are poisonous. (Use a diluted soap spray). And do provide caterpillar food plants and a rich pub of nectar plants by using both annual and perennial flowers that bloom from May through October. Plant them in large clumps both for effect and to catch the butterflies' attention.

Butterflies prefer flowers that provide an easy landing pad such as purple coneflower and terminal clusters such as vervain so they can obtain maximum nectar with a minimal expenditure of energy. The flowers' colour and scent are really advertisements for the nectar that lies within; the flower lives to be pollinated and nectar is the butterflies' reward. There is no need to remove all weeds as they too may be good nectar sources. Some butterflies prefer rotting fruit or carrion, mammal manure, or mud puddles for the minerals they provide. And a source of water would be a good idea; add stepping stones into the water for timid tarsi.

Most of these flowers can be purchased at garden centres or through nursery catalogues or plant exchanges. Do not dig up plants from the wild but do harvest their seed and grow your own.

Here is a suggested list of flowers that attract butterflies.
also see Monarch Watch