Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Have you considered growing a pollinator garden?

Photo by Ersin Aslan from Pexels

Have you ever considered making a place in your landscape specifically for native pollinators? Doing so can help preserve those that are struggling to exist. You might not think of pollinators such as bees,  wasps and butterflies as being under threat, but many are. We usually blame overuse of insecticides as being the culprit, but there are others. Diseases, parasites and predators take their toll. By providing a pollinator-friendly habitat, you help them thrive, as well as enjoy their presence. You also gain a sense of pride in doing good for the environment.

You don't need much space to establish a pollinator garden. A few plants on your deck or patio can attract them. If you have a large area available, by all means, use it.

Pollinators have three basic needs, common even to you and me - food, water, and shelter for places to hide and begin their little families.

Food Sources - Host Plants

We picture bees and butterflies feeding on nectar from flowers, but juvenile pollinators don't do that. Young ones feed on stems and foliage, and not always of the same plants. Proper food supplies should include both.

To determine exactly which you'll need to plant may require a bit of study on your part. Good plants for pollinators include aromatic herbs, annuals, perennials, and even some weeds. features plant collections for butterflies and other pollinators. Plant a wide variety. Select species that will provide blooms throughout the growing season. Research the species of pollinators commonly found in your area, then provide the foods they enjoy.

Remember that native pollinators often prefer native plants, so be sure to include some in or around your garden. It's not a good idea to gather plants from the wild. Some may be endangered and protected. Sow seed where possible. For mature plants, search for those nurseries that specialize in native species. There are a growing number of them. Native Plant societies can help you find sources.


Pollinators need water. You'll often find bees gathered along the edges of bird baths. Butterflies will cluster around mud puddles, birdbaths, and even dung. Be sure to provide water sources for them. Still, shallow water is best. You needn't provide the dung.

Shelter, Nesting Sites and Materials

You'd be surprised at how resourceful little creatures can be when it comes to establishing homes.

That aside, pollinators will burrow in plant stems, hide in flower pots, small brush piles, and even nest in bundled drinking straws. Dryer lint, cotton balls, and the mud from puddles will be used for building materials.

After providing for your pollinators' needs, please be careful not to lure them to destruction. By that I mean, avoid using pesticides and herbicides in or around your pollinator garden. Both organic and synthetic pesticides can be harmful. Herbicides can kill the very plants you provided for pollinators' benefit.

Pollinator gardens fascinate young and old, but especially the young. Remember how enthralled you were as a child while watching butterflies and bees? Pass the feeling along to your own children, grandchildren, or even to kids in the neighborhood. You and they will be delighted that you did.

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Sunday, May 3, 2020

Life Stages of Butterflies, and Plants to Attract Them.

Tiger swallowtail utterfly on lantana

If there were beauty contests for insects, adult butterflies would win every time. But their time spent in glamorous array is incredibly short – usually for only a few weeks. The rest of their lives are spent in less dramatic forms: egg, caterpillar, and chrysalis.

“The caterpillar does all the work, but the butterfly gets all the publicity.”
― George Carlin

Butterfly eggs are laid by adult female butterflies on plants, but not just any plants. The plants, known as “host plants”, are chosen for their desirability as food for the caterpillars which eventually emerge from the eggs. Which are desirable? They choose those they are accustomed to by their very nature, usually the ones endemic or similar to those found in the caterpillars’ native habitats.

Butterfly chrysalisAfter the eggs hatch, the caterpillars eat, and eat, and eat a lot more. Gardeners who have had their cole crops decimated by cabbageworms know it well. They gorge themselves because they are preparing for the next stage of their lives sequestered in the chrysalis. The chrysalis looks sort of like a sarcophagus. It is within the chrysalis that the caterpillar changes into a butterfly. It’s for that reason, I think, that the butterfly’s emergence is compared to resurrection from the dead.

After the metamorphosis, the adult butterfly feeds on fruits or flower nectar. These may be the same as the host plant, or many others.

When planting a butterfly garden, be sure to include species that are native to your area. While non-native species might be visually appealing to you, your butterflies might turn up their proboscises at them.

To help you select plants for your butterflies, we at have created a category of plants that attract butterflies. Some serve as host plants; some serve as food plants. You should include both in your garden. Not only that, but we’ve listed specific butterfly species known to be attracted to each of the plants in the category.

Zebra Heliconian butterfly on lantana
For example, if you go to the Lantana listing, you'll read, "Attracted species include Spicebush Swallowtail, Zebra Heliconian, American Lady, Cabbage White, Clouded Skipper, Fiery Skipper, Dun Skipper, Crossline Skipper, Eufala Skipper, Least Skipper, Ocola Skipper, Pecks Skipper, Zabulon Skipper, Tawny-edged Skipper, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Orange Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur, Pipevine Swallowtail, Zebra Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Gray Hairstreak, Red-Banded Hairstreak, Great Southern White, Variegated Fritillary, Great Spangled Fritillary, Hayhurst’s Scallopwing, Horace’s Duskywing, Wild Indigo Duskywing, Little Glassywing, Monarch, Painted Lady, Pearl Crescent, Sachem, Silvery Checkerspot."

The lists are not exhaustive, but should be helpful.

If you have a certain butterfly in mind that you want to feed, simply go to the Home Page, enter your butterfly name, and Search. A list of particular plants will pop up. For example, enter the word “monarch”, and this list will appear.

Finch on Echinacea seeds
When your garden is filled with your local butterflies’ favorite foods, you’ll have a lovely display of flowers and butterflies, too. But there could be an added bonus - birds! Yes, many of the same flowers attract birds, as well. Echinacea, for example, attracts a whole host of butterflies, and the flowers gone to seed feed the birds. So, let the seed-heads mature for the birds.

As your garden appeals to birds and butterflies, you’ll help support both, and enjoy your beautiful guests.

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