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
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