Dateline: March 6, 2015*
Planting beautiful and aromatic nectar sources is an easy way to attract adult pollinators. A flower garden will really draw them in. And everyone enjoys the beautiful colors of the flowers and the butterflies and bees that land.
But, it is equally important to provide for the next generation. This means planting larval host plants. Often insects are plant species specific when it comes to where they lay eggs or raise their young.
This of course involves accepting chewed plants or insect housing in the form of galls.
If you do some research into the butterflies and other beneficial insects that occur in your range, you may be surprised to learn that the plants you spend time yanking out or dousing with weed and feed are the very plants that our insect friends need to feed on. Those lumps you spray to prevent unslightly plant or tree “damage” may house some pretty important pollinators or pest control agents.
So, consider this: the lacier the leaves, the more young feeding which translates into a larger population of butterflies, moths, beetles, etc. which translates into more bird food. Same with galls which may tarnish the pristine smooth look of a tree branch. Many provide housing for wasps or flies that are excellent pollinators as well as biocontrol for pest species. Think those chewed leaves or bumpy things are unsightly now? Have I given you something to think about?
The saying goes “You catch more flies with honey…”. Well, I say you can get more pollinators with “weeds”.
Galls come in all shapes and sizes providing interesting textures on plants
Some of my favorite flora volunteers in my Florida garden are:
- Turkey Tangle Fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), a native groundcover that hosts the White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae) butterfly
- Virginia Pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum), a native edible that hosts the Great Southern White (Ascia monuste) butterfly
- Cudweed (Gamochaeta spp.), a low growing nondescript flower that hosts the American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) butterfly
- Southern Plantain (Plantago virginica) another low growing nondescript plant that hosts the Buckeye butterfly and provides seeds for numerous ground feeding birds.
- Indian Hemp (Sida spp.) a woody shrub-like member of the mallow family that hosts the Checkered Skipper and Mallow Scrub Hairstreak butterflies
- Southern Beeblossom (Gaura angustifolia) hosts the Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae)…so pretty that it would give any butterfly a run for its money in the beauty department.
This list is not all-inclusive and a few butterflies mentioned are generalists who may use more than one species of plant. It is just a sampling of what is available to grow butterflies if you just stand back and let it happen. Butterflies in your range may be different and may use completely different plants, so do your research.
These native plants are free in my beautiful wildlife garden…so that makes the butterflies free. Moths too!
For addition tips on attracting butterflies to your beautiful wildlife garden, check out the archive of The Ultimate Guide to Butterfly Gardening.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on March 6, 2015 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.