Driving down an off-the-beaten path in west Tennessee, a driver swirled and
stopped immediately in front of me. After hitting my brakes, I realized it was my
fault. I should have read her bumper sticker which stated: I BRAKE FOR
Ranging in colors from yellow, black, blue, and shades in between, you see them
on country roads—suburban gardens—to sunny nature centers. Driving on the
back-roads, butterflies (Lepidoptera) flutter above Queen Anne’s Lace, Black-
Eyed Susan and Purple Cone Flowers that grow along the roadside. Regardless of
how often they appear, one never tires of their beauty. These marvels of nature fly
by day and rest with their wings erect.
Grow Both Hosts
and Nectar Plants
The ideal way to attract butterflies is for gardeners to provide both host and nectar
plants. For example, Monarchs need milkweeds (any plant in the genus Asclepias),
but every butterfly species has a plant or group of plants that it specifically needs
for its caterpillars to eat. Zebra Swallowtails only lay their eggs on Paw Paw trees.
Gulf Fritillaries prefer Passion Vine. Long-tailed Skippers choose native Wisteria
and other bean family relatives.”
The primary host plant for the Monarch is the Common Milkweed. If this plant
does not die back in winter, cut back to the roots. Otherwise, the plant carries a
disease than can harm Monarchs. New growth is excellent food for the Monarchs.
With the overuse of chemicals and the milkweed that may produce a disease, the
Monarch needs our help.
Nectar plants that grow well in the state include those above and native
Honeysuckle, milkweed, Dwarf zinnia, Lantana, Mexican sunflower, Blazing star,
Joe-pye-weed, and Phlox,
Often wildlife enthusiasts ask: How do I find out the best host and nectar
plants that attract butterflies? Start with your local Extension System, websites for
butterflies and local clubs or interest groups who focus on botany,
wildflowers, butterfly gardening, or other nature-related clubs.
Environmental Factors Affecting Butterflies
Aside from providing host and nectar producing plants, there are
additional concerns Tennessee gardeners can control. Place
saucers of moist sand or clean water daily around your plants. Smooth
rocks or stone also provide a warm resting place.” Any ideas for
over-ripe fruit? Instead of discarding, slice bananas or apples and offer
these tidbits for munching. Butterflies not only receive moisture, but the
fruit provides energy.
A common problem affecting butterflies and non-harmful pests are
chemicals and pesticides used to control weeds and insects.
Use full-strength white vinegar to manage grass
and weeds near nectar producing flowers. This will not eradicate tough
foliage, but will help control without the use of dangerous ingredients.
Carolyn Tomlin writes for numerous magazines focusing on wildlife and nature.