There are but a few insects that most people are pleased to find in their backyards, and butterflies are nearly always a welcome sight. I don’t think that there is anything more magical than seeing a gentle butterfly floating on air and flitting from tree to tree in search if some tasty nectar, or looking for the best spot to lay her precious eggs.
Our backyard – without the use of any chemicals, herbicides or pesticides – allows many creatures to thrive. A healthy eco-system will feature a host of insects and their predators such as the lizards and frogs that share our home. For us butterfly connoisseurs, we are always on the lookout for a new species or for more of these creatures to visit our homes. There are ways that you can invite them into your safe space!
Attracting butterflies falls into two areas – attracting adult butterflies to feed or attracting adults to breed and lay their eggs.
First step is to get your research head on and investigate which butterflies are found in your local area. We have over 120 found in the state of Victoria (Australia) and I have personally seen over a dozen different types in our backyard. The internet has a wealth of information or you could pop along to your local library or garden centre.
Butterflies feed on nectar, primarily from flowers, but some will also feed on rotting fruit or sap from specific species of trees. Try plantting up your garden with local flowering plants that will grow and attract bucket loads of these beauties.
Common butterfly attractive plants in my locale are: Buddleja, Sedum, Cassia, Heliotrope, Hyssop and Mints, flowering Thyme and Sage, and the impressive spikes of blue Echium.
Attracting butterflies so they can breed, means that you are most certainly going to be bothered by caterpillars. I find that on mature plants, they only ever damage a small part of the tree before they start metamorphosis. Keep an eye on them on your new or smaller trees and maybe shift them to larger suitable spots if possible.
Caterpillars are very selective on where they will feed and on which plant. Over millions of years they evolve to only being able to eat food from specific plants – i.e. Those developed to only survive on citrus fruit trees cannot survive if shifted to another type of tree. Some will be very specific such as the Dainty Swallowtail, which will only ever lay her eggs on our lemon tree. I am always pleased to see them around our tree as they are truly one of the loveliest butterflies I have ever seen, with a huge wingspan of around 7cm with mesmerising colours of black, red, white and blue.
Their chrysalides will blend into the surrounding plant foliage perfectly, so it can be tricky to spot them. If you are lucky enough to find one, it is a fascinating project for the kids to keep an eye on it for a few weeks. Sadly, we lost most that we managed to locate, to a predatory wasp, which lays its eggs into the developing butterfly and kills them.
Document and identify – My fellow vegan gardeners will not attempt to catch our butterfly friends in order to appreciate or indentify them. Collect them in photographs (or notes which could include colours, shapes etc). Once you have indentified the types that you already have, simply add more of the types of plants that they like and you will see an increase in the population.
Touching their delicate wings will cause irreversible damage and as they only live for a short period anyway, why shorten it even further. Teach your kids to look and not touch, and if you can convince them to stand very still for a while, they may even have one of these special creatures land on them!
Until next time, happy gardening =)