Millions of tiny overlapping scales give the wings their brilliant colors and iridescence. Black swallowtail, tiger swallowtail, skipper, fritillary, gossamer wings, and Monarch – there are over 725 species of butterfly in the United States. Their life cycle is one of nature’s most spectacular births. From egg to caterpillar to chrysalis, finally emerging as the regal butterfly, this life cycle is dependent on specific plants and habitats. Over the last twenty years, widespread use of pesticides has decimated both the butterfly and its habitat. Genetically modified seeds (GMOs), bred to be resistant to herbicides, allow commercial farms to spray these chemicals on a massive scale, wiping out 150 million acres of wildflower habitat.
Creating new habitat is the most important step we can take to save these delicate insects. Even a handful of plants in containers can serve as habitat. Host plants are the first to consider and include in your landscape. Milkweed and swamp milkweed are the host plants for the Monarch, providing the main source of food for its caterpillars. Fennel, dill, parsley, and Queen Anne’s lace play host to the Eastern Black Swallowtail. The fritillary lays eggs on morning glory and passion vine.
Plant a wide variety of flowering annuals, herbs, perennials and shrubs to provide nectar. Cypress vine, Mexican sunflowers, and zinnias are a few annuals that butterflies find irresistible. Hardy native perennials to try include aster, cardinal flower, coreopsis, false indigo and phlox. For a complete listing of butterfly friendly plants native to your area, contact your local cooperative extension service.
Don’t Forget the Water
Like all wildlife, butterflies also need a source of water. If you have a birdbath, place a few stones where they are just barely covered with water. You can also fill a container with sand and keep it moist.