Butterflies are some of the most beautiful additions to any garden. Many gardeners are satisfied with enjoying the occasional butterfly which may flutter among their flowers; however, gardeners who witnessed the fascinating metamorphosis of butterflies first hand often want to attract more of these beautiful creatures into their landscapes.
If you want to attract and enjoy butterflies in all their wonder, you must learn to recognize and accept all four phases of their life cycle. Develop an appreciation of caterpillars and become familiar with them. With a little time and study, you can learn which caterpillar turns into which chrysalis and then into which butterfly. Observing this process is an incredible experience.
There are many aspects of attracting butterflies into the garden which center around providing for basic needs of butterflies and their larvae (caterpillars). The primary needs are food, water, and a habitat in which they can live and breed. Attracting butterflies may be as simple or as extensive project as you would like to make it.
The most obvious way to attract butterflies is to add plants which provide nectar. Fortunately most of these plants are attractive and colorful additions to you garden. Below is a partial list of these plants.
Trees: Vitex, Desert willow, and redbud
Shrubs: Glossy Abelia, Cenizo, Century plant, and spirea
Perennials: Buddleia, Blackfoot daisy, Lantana, Anisacanthus, Asclepias, Monarda, Tithonia, Verbena, Gaillardia, Summer Phlox, Salvia Leucantha, purple coneflower, Joe pye weed, Caryopteris, cigar plant, shrimp plant, Liatris, Red Hot poker, Scabiosa, and veronica
Annuals: Sweet Alyssum, Torenia, Pentas, Candytuft, Purslane, Gomphrena, Cosmos, Petunia, Calendula, Impatiens, Zinnia, Periwinkle, and Pansy
Vines: Queens Crown, Mexican flame vine, Sweet Pea, Scarlet runner bean, Honeysuckle, Wisteria, Bougainvillea, Star Jasmine, Carolina Jessamine, Sweet Autumn clematis, Morning Glory and Passion Vine
Herbs: Chives, Lavender, Bergamont, Marjoram, Borage, Pineapple sage, Catmint, Spearmint, and Anise hyssop
The second food source you can provide is the larvae of the butterfly, the caterpillar. Mature female butterflies instinctively know to lay their eggs on certain plants which will provide food for newly hatched caterpillars. Understanding that this is an important part of the life cycle of the butterfly will help you be tolerant of the damage they may do to their host plants. During this relative short-livid stage, caterpillars eat voraciously prior to transforming into chrysalis or pupa.
By planting specific larval food on which the butterflies can lay eggs, you can provide hatching caterpillars food to mature and then pupate into chrysalises. Some of these plants are listed below:
Trees: Apple, Texas ebony, Hackberry, Sweet bay, Cedar elm, Pecan, Redbud, Catalpa, Citrus, Mountain laurel, Texas persimmon, Cherry, Dogwood, Mexican plum, Peach, Pear, and oaks
Shrubs: Abutilon, Barbados Cherry, Althea, Yaupon holly, Native lantana, Mexican buckeye, Possum haw holly, Southern waxmyrtle, Cenizo, Agave, Senna, Yucca, and Privet
Perennials: Shrimp plant, Butter and eggs, Abutilon, Asclepias, Native antelope horns, Canna, Clover, Aster, Frog fruit, and Rudbeckia
Annuals: Sweet Alyssum, Calendula, Amaranth, Texas paintbrush, Edible beans, Cole family, Texas bluebonnet, sunflower, Pansy, Okra, and Beets
Vines: Passion vine, Sweet pea, pipevine, and Wisteria
Herbs: Borage, Dill, Fennel, Parsley, Lambs quarters, Nasturtium, and sorrel
Other ways to attract butterflies are to provide containers of rotting fruit and areas of moist sand to provide water. Butterflies love to warm themselves in the sun, and this activity is called basking. Provide rocks, logs, and open mulched areas in places which receive the morning sun will be appreciated by your butterfly population.
Note: If you want the maximum number of butterflies in your garden, it is important to follow organic gardening practices and avoid the use of BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) as this product kills all caterpillars