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Bewitching Butterflies with Plants


Bewitching Butterflies with Plants

Instead of just inviting butterflies into your garden, you can help them procreate. Give them what they grow on, host plants, aka caterpillar food. Many host plants; mallow, plantain, pearly everlasting, thistle, nettle, fennel, wild radish are green “weeds” under your feet, ready to pop up if you spend time pulling the annual European grasses that might otherwise crowd out these caterpillar food sources. These plants are free, easy, and the seeds are already in the ground. Trees are also hugely important. Buckeyes, Oaks,Willows are important host plants for many larvae, including moths, the pollinators of the night. Mistletoe is the host plant for the extraordinary Great Purple Hairstreak. (see photo below)

A step towards having life in the garden is to not use pesticides, or to inadvertently bring them in. Neonicotinoids are used on most all plants in big box type nurseries, and is a killer that persists indefinitely in the garden. Avoid it. Even seeds coated with this substance can harm to insects feeding on future blooms.

Butterflies and other pollinators overwinter as larvae, chrysalis, egg and adult. Point being, they overwinter. Even though you may not see them, they are there. Being too neat and clean doesn’t encourage insect life. Leaf litter, twigs and branches offer shelter and hiding places for the many months of diapause (like hibernation) vital to an insect’s life cycle. Ecology is maximized with minimal disturbance, and minimal fragmentation. Fractured landscapes where life can not travel from one area to the next, greatly reduces biodiversity and therefore resilience.

Butterflies are joined by a host of other insects to make up local pollinators. Bees, flies, beetles, wasps, and hummingbirds enable plants to reproduce. The European honeybee is the poster child for pollination, but there are also 1,600 species of bees native to California. Unlike European honeybees, native bees are mainly solitary, rearing a handful of young on their own, and tend to be ground dwelling, using holes in the ground and hollowed out sticks to raise their young. Instead of honeycomb, made by the collective colony, solitary mama bees create a honey pot: a small wax bowl they fill with nectar for their young.  

People like and care about butterflies. Hopefully this sentiment extends to other lifeforms. Working with native plants helps foster a great feeling of connection. UC Berkeley and California Native Plant Society have teamed up to come out with a wonderful tool to help gardeners navigate the extraordinarily rich world of plants native to our local area. These plants require less effort; water, pruning, feeding, and offer more reward; established relationships with native fauna. So exciting! For more interactive native plant experiences, look into our local Cal. Native Plant Society group - Milo Baker Chapter which meets monthly in Santa Rosa. CalFlora Nursery in Fulton, is another fantastic local resource.