For many people, gardeners and nature lovers alike butterflies have been an important part of the outdoor environment we live in.
These mystical creatures fluttering through our gardens have captured the attention of collectors for centuries, spending endless hours studying the growth cycles, flight patterns as well as the patterns on their wings.
In many cultures butterflies have a great deal of symbolism of hope and love as well as rebirth. In recent years the numbers of native butterflies have been decreasing, especially the Monarch butterflies. I wanted to know how home gardeners can help increase the population in our gardens.
I recently caught up with John Dailey of SkyRiver Butterflies at his traveling butterfly exhibit to talk butterfly cultivation. I even had the opportunity to help release a few for the exhibit.
Sky River Butterflies it the largest traveling butterfly exhibit in the world, with about 1,500 to 2,000 butterflies in the exhibit. The main objective is to educate people on their life cycle and how to cultivate more butterflies in our won gardens.
“People have to understand that butterflies are very short-lived creatures. It takes 40 to 60 days from egg to adulthood. Typically they will live from 2-3 days to 2-3 weeks.” They are dependent on their life cycle to reproduce. The opportunities for butterflies to reproduce are decreasing due to the amount of toxins being used in the agriculture industry. The host plants where they need to lay their eggs are not as available as they once were.
The key to bringing back butterflies like the Monarch is the right host plants, according to Dailey. The host plant is the plant to attract the larvae or caterpillars to the garden. For Monarch butterflies it is Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed.
Asclepias incarnata is a herbaceous perennial native to North America found in wet swampy areas. It can survive in a backyard garden as long as the soil doesn’t dry out. The Swallowtail butterflies have a long list of host plants depending upon the species. The Swallowtail caterpillars need pipevine plants.
“Each butterfly has a specific host plant. You want to surround those plants with high nectar plants,” he said. High nectar plants produce sugars that adult butterflies feed from. Studies have been done on to what exactly butterflies are attracted in terms of types of plants and colors. One plant in particular is Gomphrena, commonly known as Globe Amaranth. It is a wild flower that produces lots of nectar that attracts all butterflies. Plants like Dahlias are another great nectar plant. You want to look for plants with flowers that have a short neck, making feeding easier for the butterfly.
“Monarch populations used to be measured in billions, now it is measured in millions,” stressed Dailey. By adding a few simple native plants to our gardens we can help restore those numbers.