The plight of the Monarch butterfly has been a big news item in recent times. Just look up “monarch butterfly” on Youtube, and you’ll find scores of videos aimed at Monarch conservation. The Monarch is unusual due to its remarkable migration route between south central Canada and the hilltops west of Mexico City. For years the governments of Ontario and Quebec, and the midwestern states sought to eradicate various types of milkweed that were thought to be noxious weeds. And then it turned out that these plants are essential food plants for the Monarch. Not only do the adults feed on the nectar-rich flowers, but their caterpillars absolutely depend on the foliage as a food source. Other plants will not support Monarch caterpillars. Happily, there has been a major initiative to replant milkweed species across North America.
All butterfly species, like their cousins the bees, are under threat due to habitat loss. Without food, how can these beautiful insects survive?
We are passionate about pollinator conservation at West Coast Seeds. Not only does our food supply depend on pollinators, but our ecosystem does as well. We encourage you to plant part of your garden or farm with species that are particularly attractive to butterflies. We’ve talked about Planting a Bumblebee Garden, and Planting to Attract Predatory Insects, but what about planting a butterfly garden?
First of all, a selection of flowering plants that are particularly rich in nectar is key. Some species are highly regarded as food sources for caterpillars, so that’s also a consideration. Butterflies do not nest, so there is no point in erecting shelters for them — they will go unused. However, butterflies do take time to bask in the sun, and to take water from moist soil. So leaving a small area with exposed, damp soil surrounded by rocks that will warm in the sun might be a good idea.
Here are some of our favourite flowers for planting a butterfly garden:
Licorice Mint Agastache rugosa
False Queen Anne’s Lace Ammi majus
Showy Milkweed Asclepias speciosa
Butterfly Milkweed Asclepias tuberosum
Basket of Gold Aurinia saxatilis
Cornflower Centaurea cyanus
Wallflower Cheiranthus cheiri
Cosmos Cosmos bipinnatus
Cat Grass Dactylis glommerata
Pinks Dianthus plumarius
Coneflower Echinacea purpurea
Joe Pye Weed Eutrochium purpureum
Blanketflower Gaillardia pulchella
Birds Eye Gilia Gilia tricolor
Candytuft Iberis umbellata
Alyssum Lobularia maritima
Lupins Lupinus polyphyllus
Wild Bergamot Mondarda fistulosa
Pale Evening Primrose Oenothera pallida
Prairie Coneflower Ratibida columnifera
Black-Eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta
Pincushion Plant Scabiosa atropurpurea
Speedwell Veronica spicata
Strawflower Xerochrysum bracteatum
Zinnia Zinnia elegans
A simpler option is to plant some of our Butterfly Blend Wildflower Seeds.