Butterfly Favorites

Attracting butterflies adds another dimension to the joy of a garden. They lend color, movement, and life.

You probably have a favorite dinner. Butterflies do too. You can supply the ingredients, and most likely have quite a few in your garden already.

For example, few of us have escaped the appeal of butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii). Flowering from early summer to frost, fragrant, and trouble free, butterfly bush has one more compelling characteristic: It is a magnet for butterflies. They can't resist. It must be their version of chocolate.

Butterfly bush is a fast-growing shrub that enjoys well-drained soil and full sun. Old blossoms should be removed as they begin to dry. Cut directly above a set of leaves at the base of the flower. New buds will soon follow. Other shrub and vine favorites include abelia and coral honeysuckle.

Perennial in warm areas and a dependable annual in areas with cold winters, Lantana (Lantana camara) offers all who flutter by a flowering way station. Give it full sun and well-drained soil, and all you have to do is wait.

Other annual favorites include cosmos, globe amaranth, narrowleaf zinnia, single marigolds such as Disco Yellow, pentas, and Mexican sunflower. In addition, they also enjoy perennials such as garden phlox, Brazilian sage, purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, and verbena.

Butterflies need nectar for the adults, as well as a host for the larvae. Most of us are happy to have butterflies light upon our flowers and sip their sweetness, but how do you feel about caterpillars munching at the leaves? Well, that's what it takes to bring about the next generation of butterflies.

The perfect host plant is butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Monarchs prefer it above all else for egg laying, larval food, and even nectar. And the milky sap ingested by the larva makes the adult taste nasty to any that might otherwise enjoy a butterfly treat.

This Southern wildflower is a frequent sight along roadsides in the late spring and early summer. A vase-shaped cluster of orange to orange-red flowers creates an eye-catching display. You'll enjoy it so much more in your garden. Fortunately it is available from nurseries; the deep taproot makes wild plants difficult to transplant without killing them. Plant in average soil and full sun, and let the caterpillars have their lunch. The plants will tolerate it and soon bear horn-shaped seedpods characteristic of milkweeds.

If you've grown parsley, fennel, or dill, you've probably met the showy caterpillar of the black swallowtail butterfly. At times they can almost decimate your plants, but the plants will survive. And if you have a little less to harvest, consider what you will be getting in return. Plant herbs in full sun and well-drained soil. Fennel and parsley are usually grown from transplants, and dill is most often planted as seeds.

Passion vine (Passiflora incarnata) is the host for the Gulf Fritillary butterfly. No one needs a better excuse for planting this showy vine.

"Butterfly Favorites" is from the Southern Living Gardening Guide 1999.