EcoBlog

The latest thinking on ecological landscapes. Useful tips to improve our environment

ecobeneficial-trademark-shadow-new2
Kim Eierman

Kim Eierman

Founder of EcoBeneficial!

Available for virtual and in-person landscape consulting, talks and classes.

Buy a copy of
The Pollinator Victory Garden!

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.
397714_247371562063365_1785780299_n

Attracting Butterflies: Growing Nectar Plants Isn’t Enough!

There are many, many reasons to use native plants in your landscape. One great reason is to support the caterpillars of butterflies.  If you don’t feed those caterpillars, you won’t support the transformation of caterpillars into adult butterflies in your landscape.

Adult butterflies eat mostly nectar found in flowering plants, and most adult butterflies use a variety of plant species to nectar from (“nectar plants”).  But the caterpillars of butterflies are another matter altogether.  Caterpillars eat the plants themselves, mainly the leaves. Many caterpillars have co-evolved with specific native plants and now depend upon those plants, which are called “host plants.”  It’s a critical ecological association.  Without host plants, host-specific caterpillars will never make that magical transformation into adult butterflies.  It’s worth noting that some native plants are double-duty plants and offer both food to caterpillars and nectar to adult butterflies.

A classic example of this ecological relationship can be seen with the Monarch Butterfly. Monarch caterpillars depend upon plants in the Asclepias family (Milkweeds).  If you aren’t growing milkweeds in your garden, you won’t be feeding Monarch caterpillars, and accordingly you won’t be supporting the transformation of Monarch caterpillars into adult Monarch butterflies.  Milkweeds are double-duty plants which also offer nectar to Monarch adults.

Many people plant Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii), thinking that it’s a great butterfly plant. But Butterfly Bush has a dark side. It is an exotic plant introduced from China, not native to the U.S., so it has not co-evolved with our native butterflies.  Butterfly Bush does not provide food for caterpillars, it only offers nectar for adult butterflies.  Of most concern though, Butterfly Bush has been classified as a noxious weed or an invasive plant in many states.

Lesson learned:  plant native plants which support native species.  Keep this in mind as you start planning your garden this spring.

Happy Planting from Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!

Photo: Monarch Caterpillar on Native Butterfly Weed

Photo credit: M Hedin/Flickr

1 Comments

  1. Pat Taafe on April 3, 2013 at 8:08 am

    I am program director for Teaneck Garden Club and also head up the Native Plants/Butterfly garden. Very intersted in your blog so please include me in your emails.
    Also, any other info or websites for more info.

    Thanks, looking forward and to learn more.



More from EcoBlog

Spotlight on Great Native Plants: Vernal Witch-hazel

Vernal Witch-hazel aka Spring Witch-hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) is one of our earliest blooming native shrubs, flowering as early as January, but often in February or March.  Its orange, red or yellow flowers can appear while snow is still on the ground, and hug tightly onto the leafless branches.  The spicy,…

Read More

Grow Your Own Bird Seed: Native Grasses for Wild Birds

Many of our wild birds are seed eaters and will appreciate a backyard buffet planted with beautiful native grasses. The planting you do this spring will pay off next fall and winter when those birds are looking for scarce food resources. Our native grasses are not only attractive, but they are…

Read More

Native Bees: The Forgotten 4,000

We all know the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) because of its amazing ability to produce that golden liquid, honey.  But, did you realize that there are more than 4,000 species of bees which are native to the United States? Native bees vary tremendously in size, color, habitat, nest types,…

Read More