This spring you will see countless butterfly garden articles using words like nectar, pollinator, and flowers. What you might not see in these documents are words like native, habitat, and caterpillar. While providing pollen is laudable, you are not being a very good host if you don’t provide food for the butterfly through all 4 stages of its life cycle: egg, larva, chrysalis, and adult.
The butterfly has been poetically called a flying flower. In reality, it is an insect, which, in its adult stage, lives 2-6 weeks. Nectar-rich plants like echinacea, coreopsis, and lantana attract the beautiful fluttering adult. However, the challenge is to provide specific foods for the caterpillar, the larval stage of the butterfly.
The caterpillar eats voraciously for 9 – 14 days in order to grow and molt 5 times before its attaches to a host plant where the pupa skin hardens to form the enclosure where metamorphosis takes place. Host plants to include in pots and beds this summer are parsley, dill, fennel, and passion vine.
The most important host plant to include is Asclepias or milkweed, which is absolutely critical to the survival of the monarch butterfly. It’s the ONLY plant the monarch larvae eat, and the ONLY plant they will lay their eggs on. As Southeasterners, we must plant milkweed to insure the survival of monarchs which travel from as far away as Canada through Georgia to overwinter in Mexico.
Make your garden monarch/butterfly-friendly by planting butterfly weed, A. tuberosa, common milkweed, A. syriaca; or swamp milkweed, A. incarnate, which can be grown from seed or purchased at nurseries. Join us this Wednesday, June 9, 2021, at 11:00 am, at the Roswell Adult Recreation Center, to make Milkweed Mud Pies to get started growing milkweed at your home. To register for this free program, either call the ARC @ 770-641-3950 or register on line by clicking here and choosing June 9 National Garden Week Topic.
Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants says, “Because life is fueled by the energy captured from the sun by plants, it will be the plants that we use in our gardens that determine what nature will be like 10, 20, and 50 years from now.”
Make your contribution to the future; plant native milkweed to help ensure the survival of the butterfly.
Get a good start by reading circular 975 at extension.uga.edu/publications.