Butterflies in the Garden
On the East Coast we have only one species of nectar feeding bird, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Therefore, to attract bright flashes of moving color to our gardens, we look to the butterflies.
Butterflies are nectar-feeders; their long coiled tongues unroll to reach the nectar reward provided by the plant. In return, the butterflies will carry pollen from flower to flower thus pollinating the flowers.
Butterflies are the perfect compliment to a flower garden. All the gardener has to do is plant flowers for the adults and provide food plants for the caterpillars and the butterflies will come.
The butterfly larvae require different sources of food, from wild cherry and tulip trees for the Tiger Swallowtail, to clovers for the Sulfur butterflies. These can be located at a distance from the butterfly garden, they do not need to be worked into the garden design.
Plants that Attract Butterflies
The top nectar plants include; Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.), Liatris (Liatrisspp.), Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.), Aster (Aster spp.), Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and of course Butterfly Shrubs (Buddleia spp.).
Butterflies in Virginia
The Swallowtails are some of our larger butterfly species. The Tiger Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, and Spicebush Swallowtail are three of the six swallowtails that are found in Virginia. They are large and prefer taller plants. Since they have long mouthparts they feed from more tubular flowers than many other butterflies.
The Cabbage White and Sulphur butterflies are smaller but more numerous, providing motion and bright flitting color highlights to the garden. Both of these species will stay around to work the fall asters.
Plan for Butterfly Visitors!
The long flowering season of a properly planned garden will be rewarded with a continued array of butterfly species coming to the early blooming spring spectacular of Columbine (Aquilegia), Catmint (Nepeta), Scabiosa, and Sea Thrift (Armeria), enjoying a midseason diet of daisies (Leucanthemum), lavender (Lavandula), oregano (Origanum), Russian Sage (Perovskia), Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata), and daylilies (Hemerocallis), and a fall finale of Asters and Sedums.