Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.

Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.
The purpose of this blog is to provide information on using native plants in the landscape, issues related to invasive exotic plants, urban wildlife management, and wildlife damage management. It is my intention that this information will assist you in deciphering the multitude of information circulating around the web and condense in some meaningful method as it relates to Kentucky. In addition, I hope to highlight a native plant that can be used in the landscape.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Gardening for Butterflies: The Most Important Plants in the Garden

Red-banded hairstreak feeds on dwarf and staghorn sumac and several oaks.

Monarch caterpillar feeds on milkweed
Gray hairstreak feeds on legumes and mallows
Sleepy orange feed on senna
Giant swallowtail feed on hop-tree

I could just say plant zinnas, verbenas, and butterfly bush and be done.  But that would be bad advice.  Why, because butterfly bush (buddleia) is invasive and there is more to attracting butterflies than by planting annuals or flowers for nectar.  The purpose of this column is to talk about attracting butterflies to the garden by using the plants that the caterpillars eat, because if you have the caterpillars, the adults will go to a large number of flowering plants for nectar and will not have far to travel to find nectar.  When thinking about creating a butterfly garden for caterpillars think location, location, location.  What this means is that the adult butterflies will be long gone, but the eggs must be laid on specific plants that are close to their food plants, or host plants that the young caterpillars need to eat.  If you have a desire to attract a large diversity of species to the garden, you should concentrate your efforts to knowing what the specific host plants are for each species and then planting those that are not common in the neighborhood.  For example, Great Spangled Fritillary caterpillars feed on violets and passionflower.  Violets are pretty common which is why you generally see lots of Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies. The same for tiger swallowtails.  Their caterpillars eat black cherry, tulip tree, and sweet bay magnolia. Tawny emperors, also common, feed on hackberry. No need to plant for these species mentioned above.  However, if you want sleepy or little orange butterflies, which are not so common, you need to plant senna.  Or as I mentioned in a previous post, pipevine swallowtail caterpillars feed on Dutchman's pipevine.  Of course, everyone knows that monarchs feed on milkweed.  In some cases, there is nothing you can plant as in the case of the great purple hairstreak caterpillars which feed on mistletoe, which is a parasitic plant that I discussed in a previous post.  So what are some of the other "host" plants to concentrate on providing in the garden.  The Giant swallowtail feeds on hop tree and lime prickly ash and I would concentrate on hop tree since lime prickly ash isn't that great of a landscape plant.  Zebra swallowtails feed on pawpaw.  Black swallowtails feed on fennel, dill, and parsley.  Spicebush swallowtails feed on spicebush and sassafras. Red admirals feed on nettles and false nettles. Gray hairstreaks feed on legumes (pea or bean family) and mallows.  The red-banded hairstreak feeds on dwarf and staghorn sumac and several different oaks.  The falcate orangetip feeds on mustards, particularly arabis (rock cress) and barbarea (winter cress). The common buckeye feeds on members of the snapdragon and plantain family in addition to wild petunia. The banded hairstreak feeds on oaks, walnut, and hickory.  This is just the beginning of creating a list of the 144 different butterflies found in Kentucky but let me tell you this, if you do get into butterflies in a big way, if you build it they will come.  A friend who has been planting exclusively for caterpillars has now seen over half of all the butterflies known in the state to his yard, just outside of Lexington.  Just imagine what you can do without planting a single zinna or verbena!

1 comment:

  1. wonderful information thank you!