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.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The absolute best native plants for attracting butterflies

Flying flowers fancy the delights of young and old alike. They flitter to and fro bringing joy and pleasure to all that watch and enjoy such things.  As I have traveled around the state of Kentucky the past 23 years giving programs, I always enjoy talking about attracting butterflies because there is so much misconception about what to plant to attract them.  Most folks tell me, zinnia, hollyhocks, butterfly bush, Mexican sunflower, daisies, marigolds, yarrow, verbenas, pentas, phlox, lantana, and salvia.  There is no question that many of these will in fact attract butterflies because many butterflies are not all that picky about what they nectar on.  However, for the astute observer of all things wild and natural, those folks who actually look closely for all different types of butterflies, not just the large showy swallowtails, they find that many butterflies actually prefer the plants they evolved with, native species.  Case in point. During our annual butterfly count in Lexington we begin the count at the Arboretum.  We visit the various areas and of course hit the butterfly bushes (Buddleia) and every single year, without exception we count far more species and numbers of butterflies on native flowers than on butterfly bushes. In many cases, even on internet web sites, natives are promoted and the number one plant mentioned is butterfly weed.  While this is a good plant for attracting butterflies, it is not the best in terms of attracting butterflies as only 9 different species have been documented using it compared to 42 species that use common milkweed. In Kentucky, and much of the mid-south and mid-west, here are the very best native plants to use in attracting butterflies.  Keep in mind that one person's wildflower is another person's weed and that some plants get a bad rap in particular the milkweeds.

#1. Common milkweed.  42 species known to nectar and especially attractive to gray and other hairstreaks, in addition to monarchs and members of the hackberry group of butterflies.

#2.  Purple coneflower. 22 species including the fritillaries, red admirals, skippers, and sulfurs.

#3. Swamp or red milkweed. 20 species known to nectar and an excellent late summer choice for buckeyes, swallowtails, and monarchs.

Now let's look at some of the other species that are excellent at attracting butterflies and we will begin with butterfly milkweed.  This is an excellent choice for swallowtails and it is one of the primary nectar sources for the coral hairstreak.

Eupatoriums (Joe-pye-weed, boneset, mistflower).  These are the best late summer and early fall butterfly magnets and do the swallowtails and hairstreaks love them.  While boneset can be a bit on the weedy side, I have photographed more rare butterfly species on this plant (and more hairstreaks) than any other plant.  It is outstanding and no butterfly garden should be without some.

Asters, particularly New-England are excellent for a variety of species and most of these are pretty weedy so you need to know what the seedlings look like and be prepared to pull them in spring or early summer.  The New England aster is quite showy and comes naturally in purple, red, blue, pink and white and is very good nectar source.  Along with the asters for color, goldenrods are excellent butterfly and insect attracting plants.  Do not get any of the aggressive species like tall or Canada but rather look for smaller, less aggressive species like rough or gray.  The smaller hairstreaks like goldenrods.

The gay-feathers or blazing stars particularly spiked, prairie, southern, and rough.  These are mostly mid to late summer flowering and attract swallowtails and smaller species.

The last favorite plant is buttonbush.  This shrub is an excellent nectar source and the dried fruits make for interesting cut or dried plant material for arrangements.

Try planting these species in drifts and masses and perhaps you will be fortunate like my friend Dr. Dave Svetich, who has seen half of all the butterfly species known in the state in his backyard by simply planting natives for nectar and specific host plants.  For more information on attracting butterflies to the backyard, click on the following link:

1 comment:

  1. We are starting our own butterfly garden this spring and doing some research on what plants we would like to put in the ground.The gay-feathers would look particularly nice in the yard. Ithink we made one choice so far. thank you for helping us decide. Great information.