Fly By Butterfly

This week while visiting Meijer Gardens I stopped by the “Butterfly Bungalow,” which is now up in anticipation of their upcoming “Butterflies are Blooming” exhibition. There were a number of chrysalises hanging already and my daughter and I got to witness two butterflies emerge from their chrysalises. I thought it was really cool and it got me thinking. Butterflies are so neat to have around the garden. What does it take to attract them?

According to Butterfly and Moths of North America, 115 different species of butterfly and/or moth species have been sighted in Kent County. That’s a lot of butterflies. And each species is attracted to specific plants. Based on that, many people like to grow Butterfly Gardens.

Aster

I started one two summers ago quite by accident.  I was looking to expand my garden with a couple of perennials and someone suggested planting a

couple of asters. They produced beautiful purple bloom in the fall and, low and behold, I noticed a few butterflies hanging around. Asters are considered native to Michigan which, according to the North American Butterfly Association, is ideal for attracting native butterflies.  They also suggest that more butterfly-attracting plants in pairs are one of the best ways to bring in the butterflies.

Purple Coneflower

Butterflies are attracted to plants for a couple of reasons. First, they look for plants with nectar they can feed on.  In addition to asters, a couple of suggested plants I’m looking at adding are the Black-eyed Susan and the Purple Coneflower. Black-eyed Susan blooms from about June through September and looks kind of like a daisy, with a dark center and bright yellow petals. Plus they are supposed to be fairly easy to grow.  Purple Coneflower is very similar in appearance to the Black-eyed Susan. They have dark, almost burgundy-orange center with lavender petals. A friend tells me they, too, are fairly easy to grow.

Butterflies also like to lay their eggs on specific types of plants. The life cycle of a butterfly actually occurs in four stages. First the butterfly lays eggs on some leaves. In the second stage a caterpillar emerges from the egg and begins to eat the plant leaves. The caterpillar will continue to eat (apparently almost constantly) until it is full-grown and ready to form itself into a chrysalis (aka Stage 3). Stage four is the metamorphosis and emergence of the butterfly. If you are interested in providing a breeding ground for butterflies, some caterpillar-friendly plants include Butterfly Milkweed, dill, curled parsley, plantain and violets (make sure to pick a species that isn’t invasive; you don’t want viola taking over your garden and creeping into your lawn).

Some fun facts about butterflies:

  • There are about 24,000 species of butterflies.
  • Monarch butterflies journey from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of about 2,000 miles, and return to the north again in the spring.
  • The top butterfly flight speed is 12 miles per hour.
  • Butterflies cannot fly if their body temperature is less than 86 degrees.
  • Many butterflies can taste with their feet to find out whether the leaf they sit on is good to lay eggs on to be their caterpillars’ food or not.