Figuring out the best plants for a butterfly garden is more than merely a desirable way to add charm, color and diversity to the plot. These days, keeping our gardens filled with butterflies should be an essential activity. Older folks can conjure up childhood memories of sunny days filled with clouds of butterflies. But over the last 50 years, their numbers have dwindled due to habitat loss, changes in agricultural processes, and global warming. Butterflies are important biodiversity indicators and feature in the chaos theory expounded by meteorologist Lorenz in 1963 – that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in the Amazonian rain forest can change the weather half a world away. Known as the butterfly effect, this supports the notion that small changes can have large consequences.
Gardeners can do a lot to help butterflies, by providing safe habitats, nectar-rich plants for adults and food plants for caterpillars. Knowing how to attract butterflies is partly about floral selections and partly about how we view our gardening spaces in their entirety. Linked together, gardens make highways between wilder areas, enabling adults to move easily and find mates. A female butterfly needs the right species of plant in the right physical condition and in the right position in order to lay her eggs. And depending on the time of the year, there could be eggs, caterpillars, pupae or adults on the plot.
There are lots of