A couple of years ago I became interested in butterflies. With a new digital camera I set out to photograph every butterfly I could find in my area. I photographed a quite a few, but that lead to the question of what other butterflies could I expect to find in my area. With a Google search for butterfly websites, I got lucky and found a website that listed all the butterflies that had been documented in my state and county:
This site not only narrowed down the species that I could expect to see, but it had a lot of information on IDÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ing the butterflies. It also contained some information on butterfly ecology, which stimulated an interest to dig deeper into the life of these butterflies. That led to my discovery of this book at my local library:
A World for Butterflies: Their Lives, Habitats and Future
Author: Phillip J. Schappert
Publisher: Firefly Books (September 2, 2000)
A World for Butterflies: Their Lives, Behavior and Future
Author: Phillip J. Schappert
Publisher: Firefly Books (March 5, 2005)
This book opened up a new understanding of butterflies. It gets into life cycles, behavior and conservation; and it also explained many of the biological mysteries of these insects. It showed how close relationships evolved between the butterflies and the native plants in their habitats.
With that background, I decided to create a garden for my local butterflies. I emphasized "for" because my approach differs from the usual approach to butterfly gardening. The usual approach is to plant some flowers that someone has noticed butterflies using for nectaring. That may draw some butterlfies in for viewing, but it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t provide what the butterflies really need. They need host plants.
Host plants are the plants that the butterflyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s caterpillars use for food. Most butterflies are quite selective about which plants they will use for host plants. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a good reason why butterflies are so selective. Each species of caterpillar has specific nutritional/biological needs; if it finds itself on the wrong plant, it will usually not survive. For some species itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just one species of plant. In my area, the Karner Blue will only use wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) and the Northern Blue will only use the dwarf bilberry (Vaccinium cespitosum). If those plants are not available, there will be no new generations of Karner Blues or Northern Blues. Other butterflies are usually a little more liberal in their selection of host plants. Monarchs, for example, can use any of the plants in the genus Asclepias (Milkweeds). A few butterflies are generalists and can use many species of plants for host plants; Painted LadyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, for example, can use over 100 different species.
For some butterflies, host plants provide the only good opportunity to observe them. These butterflies rarely use flower nectar for food. Their food comes from tree sap, rotting fruit, carrion and other non-flower sources. Some of these butterflies include the Red Admiral, Red Spotted Purple, Mourning Cloak, Commas, Tortoiseshells, White Admiral, Little Wood Satyr, and Common Wood-Nymph.
Providing for the nutritional needs of most adult butterflies includes nectaring plants and Ã¢â‚¬Å“puddlingÃ¢â‚¬