Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Butterfly Time

"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."
Nathaniel Hawthorne

I always think of mid-summer as the butterfly time. As if by magic, butterflies make an appearance and float amongst the flowers. 

I often discover them feeding on the hydrangea standard near the front door or alighting on the crazy looking mopheads of the Bee Balm on the opposite side of the flagstone walkway. In the backyard, its the late-summer Joe Pye Weed and Phlox that seem to really draw them to the garden. 

Even so, it seems there are never enough butterflies and I find myself wishing I had more of these beautiful visitors.

A meadow-style planting, like this one at the entrance to the Toronto Botanical Garden, is a terrific magnet for butterflies. 

The densely packed borders on either side of the path offer such abundant sources of nectar you can always find butterflies flitting from flower to flower.

If, like me, you want to attract more butterflies to your garden this summer, here is some information to help get you started.

Creating your own Butterfly Garden:

• Find out what butterflies are common to your provence or state. Then do a little research to determine the specific nectar sources these butterflies prefer. 

• Adult butterflies are attracted to yellow, orange, pink, purple and red flowers.

• Butterflies prefer to feed in the sun, so locate your butterfly garden accordingly.

• Butterflies don't like to fight the wind, so it is also a good idea to choose a sheltered site.

• Butterflies prefer to lay eggs on specific "host" plants, so again, do your research and plant accordingly. Black Swallowtails, for instance, like parsley, dill, fennel and common rue. Monarchs like milkweed. I found a very comprehensive list of a caterpillar's favourite foods here.

• Plant for continuous bloom, so there is always a source of nectar in your garden.

• Male butterflies often congregate around mud puddles, where they find the salt and minerals needed for successful mating. Create a homemade mud puddle using an old saucer from a plant pot and some moist sand. Find out more details in this article, or if you prefer, this video.

• Butterflies like to have a spot to warm up each morning, so it is a good idea to place some flat stones in a sunny area of your garden.

• Swear-off using all insecticides. They are lethal to butterflies.

Here is a list of some plants that will attract butterflies to your garden:

• Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium      • PeeGee Hydrangea
• Russian Sage, Perovskia          • Goldenrod
• Bee Balm, Monarda                 • Zinnia
• Aster                                         • Sunflower
• Coneflower, Echinacea
• Ironweed, Vernonia
• Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa
• Sweet Rocket
• Sweet William
• Alyssum
• Yarrow
• Sweet Woodruff

Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium 

There are such an array of Echinacea to choose from these days! Here is a reference to one of them:

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea 'Magnus' has broad pink petals and a burnt orange cone. 'Magnus' blooms from mid-summer into the fall. It's not fussy- plant it in normal, sandy or clay soil. 'Magnus' is also tolerant of a range of moisture conditions. Height: 75-100 cm (29-39 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones:3-9.

Dense Blazing Star or Prairie Gayfeather, Liatris spicata is native to meadows and marsh margins in Eastern North America. It has mauve flower spikes, which open from the top to the bottom. Plant it in average, well-drained soil that is on the moist side. Full sun. It is deer resistant, but butterflies and bees love it. Height: 45-60 cm (18-24inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-24inches). USDA Zones: 3-10.

Ironweed, Vernonia (seen on the left) is a tall native flower that prefers full sun and moist soil. 

Butterfly Bush, Buddleia (seen on the right) is often recommended to attract butterflies, but they are prolific self-seeders that can be invasive. If you want to plant a Butterfly Bush, look for one of the new cultivars that is sterile. (Note: Butterfly Bush is only hardy zones 5-9.) 

Bee Balm, Monarda

Wild Bergamont,  Monarda fistulosa is a skyscraper that can reach up to 5 feet. It blooms from mid-summer into late September. Unlike modern hybrids, Monarda fistulosa is prone to outbreaks of powdery mildew. Even so, it is well worth having in your garden, because bees and butterflies love it. Full sun to light shade. Average soil. USDA Zones: 3-9.

Phlox attract butterflies and are indispensable sources of color in the late-summer garden.

Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa+ Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia + Verbena bonariensis

Yarrow, Achillea 'Strawberry Seduction' has strawberry-red flowers with a yellow centre on an upright, mid-sized plant. Deadheading encourages blooms over a long season. This is a plant that is pretty adaptable to a range of soil and moisture conditions. Full sun. Height: 45-50 cm, Spread: 45-60 cm. USDA Zones: 4-9. 

Black Swallowtail

Here are some Butterflies to Watch out for this Summer:

Black Swallowtail Butterflies have two generation each year. The green larvae, which have black bands dotted with orange or yellow spots, like to feed on parsley, dill, celery, carrot and Queen Anne's Lace. Adult butterflies like damp flower meadows and can often be seen drinking from wet, sandy puddles.

Red Admiral Butterfly

There are 26 species of Admiral Butterflies in North America, four of which are found in Canada. Eggs are laid singly in trees. The caterpillars, which feed on the leaves of trees (particularly Willow and Aspen), resemble bird droppings. The larvae overwinter in the shelter made from a rolled leaf. The adult butterfly favours rotting fruit or animal dung as a source of food.

Aphrodite Fritillary Butterfly

Clouded Sulphur Butterflies love mud puddles. They lay reddish-colored eggs which hatch into green larvae with a black stripe down their back and light stripes on their sides. The adults like to feed on clover and Alfalfa. 

A silver mark on the underside of its wing give this butterfly its name. There are two generations of Question Mark Butterflies each year. The first generation migrates south each fall to overwinter in the Southern U.S. and returns north in spring. Typically this first generation lives until July. The next generation emerges in late July/August. The spiny larvae vary in color, but are generally reddish-brown with lighter areas. The larvae particularly like Stinging Nettles, Elm and Hops as a source of food.

The Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly has bold black stripes on yellow wings. They have one generation per year and live into late July depending on the area. The mature larvae is green with two spots that look like eyes. They like open woodlands and are another butterfly that is often found on the edge of a mud puddle.

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Online Butterfly Resources:

There are many great online resources to help you to identify butterflies in your garden:

Butterflies of Canada has an alphabetical list with pictures.
Butterflies of Ontario is a site with excellent pictures.

United States of America:


  1. Great post! Butterflies are so beautiful :)

  2. Every photo is frame worthy! I'm in love with your pale pink monarda.

  3. What a marvelous informative post, with so many stunning images. I did enjoy it and loved the tips too, I didn't know about mud puddles!xxx

  4. Thank you SO much for this post, Jennifer!
    Over the past couple of summers, I have noticed both a lack of butterflies, and a lack of bees.
    I hear there are less of both, and that makes me sad.
    I have a lot of coneflowers, and 6 butterfly bushes, but still...
    I am going to find some of the plants you have listed here, and hope that I can attract more.
    Again, thank you so much!

  5. What a beautiful post, Jennifer!!

  6. This is just all so informative - the flowers, the butterflies.
    About 15 years ago there was overall spraying on the south part of the island due to the Gypsy Moth. Although we were assured that this was a targeted spray it was easy to see that there were few butterflies for some years afterwards. They have come back, and we love to watch them.

  7. It won't be long before the butterflies are flitting about our gardens once more and we are ready for them with lots of nectar rich flowers.

  8. Great post! There is nothing like sitting in the garden on a sunny afternoon watching the butterflies do their work! I was pleased to see that I have most of the plants you suggest. And I just started some butterfly weed seeds this week to attract more! Thanks for sharing this bit of summer!

  9. Thanks for all the info, I have just planted 6 pots of Echinacea, I have Liatris growing in my windowsill and my sunflower seeds are going in the ground this week-end, hopefully I will see more butterflies than previous year. The population of butterflies have been low the last few years here in UK but we are being assured that this is normal fluctuations and not cause for concern.
    Your photos are lovely, some of your butterflies are unknown to me as we have different types over here. I love to see the Peacock Butterfly in my garden and photographed it several times.

  10. What lovely tips and photos and yes who wouldn't want a butterfly garden! I love it all! Bring it on - bring on spring!

  11. I had a lot of butterflies (and hummingbirds too) this past summer in my Zinnias! I planted the zinnias on a whim, and wow! they got the best response. Equaled only by the sedum... very popular with the butterflies and bees. I've added more good perennials each year, coneflower, yarrow, liatris... perhaps I'll add some parsely and dill to my veggie garden!

  12. Jenifer girl I am totally in love with this post ! your pictures are stunning ... that header is so beautiful ! .. I can never quite get "the" picture when it comes to butterflies .. they move so erratically and so quickly .. you have amazing ones here!
    Monarchs are rare in my garden .. but Black Swallowtails and Red Admirals with a lot of white cabbage moths .. maybe this year I can hope for more .. heaven knows I grow loads of flowers that they all like ? haha

  13. Fabulous list, i will be taking note of....

  14. Beautiful post with so much information! I like how the colours of the butterflies compliment the colours of the flowers they prefer. Thanks for sharing all your research. I had a buddleia which was the best butterfly draw in my yard, but sadly it died after a few years. I hope to get another one this spring.


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