Create a beautiful backyard butterfly garden with lovely native flowers, culinary herbs, and berries. The main food of adult butterflies is nectar from red, orange, yellow, blue, or purple flowers that haven’t been sprayed with weed or insect killers. Many native flowers have been thought of as weeds to be removed, such as clovers, mallows, lantana, and butterfly weed, but are in fact the best plants for food and shelter for butterflies and caterpillars.
The female butterfly lays her eggs on very specific native larval food plants. The Monarch butterfly only eats one species of plant, native milkweed. However, the colorful tropical milkweed hosts a protozoan parasite that causes the newborn caterpillar to be covered in spores, and must be cut back each winter.
Butterflies find native flowers enticing, especially when the nectar source is flat, open faced flowers that provide a good spot for resting and feeding or deep throated tubular flowers that hold abundant nectar. Butterflies also like fragrance and generally visit flowers in descending order of fragrance strength, like lilacs or heliotropes.
Many of the best butterfly flowers are clusters of numerous small blossoms, like Queen Anne’s lace or yarrow. The California Lilac is a shrub with tiny blue flowers and the Butterfly Bush has scented purple flowers that provide larval food and nectar for many butterflies. The passionflower vine has gorgeous flowers and edible fruit that caterpillars enjoy. Herbs, like dill, fennel, sage, marjoram, mint, thyme, and lemon balm, are also wonderful nectar sources for butterflies.
When creating a butterfly garden, provide long legged butterflies with a Butterfly Puddle, a shallow source of water with a platform on which to alight. The female butterfly lays her eggs on the underside of native plant leaves or flower buds. The caterpillar will eat its host plant as it grows and forms a chrysalis. From the chrysalis the adult butterfly emerges to dry its wings in the sun. Consider where to provide wind protection for the chrysalis and shelter from migrating birds. Now plant a sunny zone of favorite bright colored native flowers, herbs, and berries for fragrance, nectar, and food to attract a multitude of butterflies.