Since 2012 we have experienced a decline in the population of butterflies. Here are some common factors which have contributed to their decline, and tips on how to help.
- butterflies use plants that produce flowers as a food source; nectar and berries
- butterflies use plants for breeding habitats
- once hatched, larvae will use plant foliage as a food source
Common Factors of Butterfly Population Decline
- summer heat will wilt and even kill off many of the plants that are natural feeding and hatching areas
- without a consistent food source, some butterflies and caterpillars perish
- studies show that drought affects a migrating butterfly’s ability to store fat and also affects their reproduction cycle
- harsh winters potentially kill off many plants for food and breeding
- urban development can take away natural habitats and food sources
- milkweed, one of the best plants for reproduction and feed, has been treated as a noxious weed in some areas and has manually been killed off with pesticides. Milkweed plays a major role in the monarch butterfly’s life cycle
By cultivating plants in your garden that butterflies are naturally drawn to, you can help them survive and reproduce. It is best to use plants that not only offer food but also work as a breeding habitat. Many of these plants are wildflowers and would do best if you give them plenty of space. Many people have created beds entirely dedicated to butterflies to accommodate this.
Growers Tip: Cut off spent blooms to prevent plants from going to seed and spreading
While there are thousands of plants that attract and feed butterflies, here is a list of some of our favorites:
Ascliepsis – Milkweed:
Studies show that Monarch larvae will only eat milkweed. It contains the necessary nutrients for growth and development within the cocoon. Not only does it provide food and a breeding habitat, it also protects monarchs on their migratory journey. By feeding from milkweed, monarchs take in cardenolide glycosides. This toxin brightens the monarchs’ colour, signalling to predators that they are full of the toxin and therefore are less likely to be eaten. Milkweed flowers are also a great source of nectar for butterflies.We currently carry two varieties of Milkweed. If you have a wet area you can try Swamp Milkweed, which is the preferred variety of milkweed by Monarchs. In June-July it will produce clusters of small pink or white flowers on plants which grow 36″-42″ high. If you have a dry sunny area you can plant Butterfly Weed. This also flowers in June-July but has clusters of orange flowers on plants that usually grow 18″-24″ high.
Anaphalis Margaritacea-Pearly Everlasting:
You can plant ‘Pearly Everlasting’ to create a natural caterpillar nursery. It is a favorite of the American Painted Lady. The white, showy flowers make it a great addition to the garden, tolerating dry conditions and poorer soils. Give it lots of space as it can reach a height of 2′ and will reproduce by seed.
Hesperis Matronalis-Dames Rocket
‘Dames Rocket’ flowers in the spring and is a great early food source for butterflies as they migrate into Ontario. Flowers have often been described as looking like garden phlox, and stems can reach 2-4′ in height. Give this plant lots of space, as it spreads by seed.
Antennaria Dioica-Pussy Toes
‘Pussy Toes’ is another great natural breeding habitat where butterflies can easily hide their cocoons. This perennial has a low, mounding habit and has attractive silvery-green leaves. Flowers emerge on spikes, are delicate looking and fuzzy in texture. It only grows to be about 4-6″ tall and 10-12″ wide. This plant does well in areas of drought and attracts the Painted Lady Caterpillar.
Verbenia Bonariensis-Tall Verbena
‘Tall Verbena’ has showy clusters of tiny, rose-violet flowers that bloom from summer ’til frost. It grows 2-4′ tall and 2-3′ wide, and tolerates dry, hot areas. It is a host for a wide variety of butterfly caterpillars which include: