FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — AUG 28, 2013 —
By Nancy Bauer
My native habitat gardening journey started almost 20 years ago, right after viewing a slide show presentation by two passionate butterfly gardeners. The magic of those butterfly gardens resurrected memories of a favorite childhood garden— a glorious tangle of fragrant flowers, hanging vines, and sweet purple grapes. Growing wild next to the vegetable garden was a stand of milkweed that brought in Monarch butterflies in the late summer, and later fascinated me with fluffy seed heads that floated off in the wind.
Most everyone wants to see butterflies in the garden, but true pollinator habitat means planting for the butterfly caterpillars, too. The female butterfly lays her eggs on specific host plants and these are the only plants that caterpillar species can feed on. They can be anything from trees and shrubs to grasses and other ground plants. For some butterflies, like the Monarch, there is only one host plant—milkweed. With Monarch populations in serious decline we need to plant milkweed, especially along the Monarch’s migratory route. (In northern California, Monarchs migrate around September.) There are various native milkweeds to choose from including narrowleaf milkweed and showy milkweed.
In the Sacramento area, the once common West Coast Lady and Anise Swallowtail butterflies are now much harder to find. The West Coast Ladies and Painted Ladies use lupines and members of the mallow family, such as checkerbloom, desert or bush mallow, and cheeseweed for their host plants. The black and yellow Anise Swallowtail uses members of the carrot family (umbellifers). Avoid non-native invasive wild fennel, and stick with lovage, angelica, bronze fennel, culinary fennels, parsley, or dill to attract this butterfly to your garden. The Western Tiger Swallowtail is also frequent visitor and use willows as host plants. Another common garden butterfly in our region, the Buckeye, uses snapdragons and their relatives as hosts. If you find black caterpillars on your snapdragons, you may be hosting Buckeye butterflies. Be sure to plant enough to share!
If you want to find out which butterflies hang out in your neighborhood, plant a butterfly bush and buy a good butterfly guide. When you have identified the butterflies, plant their caterpillar food plants. The huge aster-sunflower family provides us with many good butterfly nectar plants, and they offer a broad landing platform. Be sure to plant your nectar flowers in drifts of just one species, which is much more attractive to butterflies and other pollinators than if you plant many different nectar flowers, but only one of each kind. The key to creating habitat for butterflies and other pollinators is to grow a diversity of good nectar plants that bloom in different seasons. Put your butterfly host plants near nectar plants but in the more “wild” parts of the garden where there is less activity and foot traffic. Be an informal (and organic) gardener. Be less eager to prune and clean up: butterfly chrysalides could be hiding most anywhere in the garden
The first butterflies to arrive in my garden nectar on my native sages which bloom early in spring. In late spring and summer, they have moved to the buddleias, verbenas, and scabiosa, and in the fall, they nectar on asters, Michelmas daisies and Mexican sunflowers (which is a favorite of Monarch butterflies). This year, I was thrilled to see pipevine swallowtails and their caterpillars on the Dutchman’s pipe; and because I grow coffeeberry, creambush, willow and ceanothus, I frequently see Pale Swallowtails, Spring Azures, and Lorquin’s Admirals in my garden. Plant for butterflies. They will come.
Nancy Bauer is a wildlife habitat gardener in Sonoma County, and is the author of “The California Wildlife Habitat Garden” (UC Press, 2012, ISBN 0520267818). Photos by Mieko Watkins and Mary K. Hanson; used with permission. Tuleyome Tales is a monthly publication of Tuleyome, a conservation organization with offices in Woodland and Napa, California. For more information go online to www.tuleyome.org.
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