The Art of Attraction
Watching butterflies and hummingbirds flit, flutter and fly through the landscape is a beautiful scene. Both of these creatures are a welcomed addition to most any landscape. Fortunately, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds is quite easy — if you provide them with a few basic things.
In addition to installing the right plants to help them complete their lifecycle, butterflies also need the site to be sunny, have a source of water, some rocks for basking on before flight and shelter from the wind and predators. Butterflies may be deterred or killed by insecticides. If you must use an insecticide, select a low-toxicity product and use it with great care. Hummingbirds for the most part, just need the right nectar-producing plants, or a brightly colored feeder filled with sugar water, to be lured into the landscape.
There are approximately 725 butterfly species in the United States and Canada, and 28,000 species worldwide with the majority of them in the tropics. Butterflies have a life cycle that is made up of four stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) and adult (butterfly). The caterpillar, which will ultimately turn into a butterfly, often feeds on different plants than the adult butterfly. During the caterpillar stage, the foliage of ‘host plants’ provides the necessary energy for the caterpillar to grow and develop. These host plants can be trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables and weeds (see Table 1 on page 33). Some kinds of caterpillars are picky eaters and will only feed on one species of plant, the monarch butterfly for example, while others will feed on a number of different species. Hungry caterpillars can consume a surprisingly large amount of foliage in a short amount of time. Because of this, you may need to change your expectation of what that part of the landscape should look like during the feeding frenzy. By planting a large number of these host plants, the amount of feeding damage to any one plant won't be that severe.
Most butterflies feed on nectar from “nectar plants.” By diversifying the landscape to include a range of plant species that will provide a continuous bloom of nectar-producing plants throughout the summer, there should be a steady stream of butterflies visiting the landscape.
Table 2 on page 33 and Table 3 on page 34 include a few of the perennials and annuals that will attract butterflies to the landscape. The tables highlight if they function as host plants, nectar plants or both. Also included is the time of bloom for the various species. Selecting plants that will provide a sequence of blooms throughout the summer will be ideal for the butterflies. A side benefit is there will be color in the landscape all summer long as well.
Hundreds of different hummingbird species live throughout the United States. Unlike butterflies, they don't tend to be picky eaters and most species can be lured to the landscape using the same plants. Hummingbirds are most drawn to tubular flowers in shades of red, pink or fuchsia. And just like butterflies, they are attracted to a combination of trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and vines (see Table 4 on page 34). Selecting a combination of these plants with varied bloom times will attract hummingbirds to the landscape for the longest timeframe.
The presence of butterflies and hummingbirds in the landscape is a wonderful site. Providing the habitats they need in order to complete their lifecycle and selecting the right plants is important to attracting both of them. By spending a little extra time and attention on plant selection to include both host and nectar plants for butterflies, and nectar plants for hummingbirds, these creatures should be regular visitors to the landscape.
Ann Marie VanDerZanden, Ph. D., is an associate professor of horticulture at Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa). Credits: Thanks to Donald A. Lewis, Extension entomologist, and Richard Jauron, Extension horticulturist, Iowa State University, for providing references and information for this article.
|Butterfly||Caterpillar Host Plants||Adult Nectar Plants
|Black Swallowtail||Queen Anne's lace, Dill, Carrot, Celery, Parsley||Milkweed, Thistle, Phlox, Clover, Alfalfa|
|Tiger Swallowtail||Cherry, Ash, Birch, Apple, Cottonwood, Willow, Lilac||Thistle, Milkweed, Phlox, Clover, Joe Pye Weed, Bee balm, Sunflower|
|Sulfurs and Whites|
|Cabbage White||Cabbage, Collards, Broccoli, Mustard, Nasturtium||Mustard, Red Clover, Aster, Bee Balm, Milkweed, Nasturtium|
|Clouded (Common) Sulfur||Clovers, Vetch, Alfalfa||Clovers, Goldenrod, Aster, Milkweed, Phlox, Knapweed|
|Orange Sulfur (Alfalfa caterpillar)||Alfalfa, Clovers, Vetch, Crown Vetch, Wild indigo||Alfalfa, Clovers, Thistle, Aster, Goldenrod, Milkweed, Dandelion|
|Spring Azure||Dogwood, Viburnum, Cherry, Sumac, Black snakeroot||Milkweed, Dandelion, Violet, Forget-me-not|
|Eastern Tailed Blue||Vetch, Clovers, Alfalfa, Yellow Sweet clover||Cinquefoil, Wild strawberry, White clover, Dogbane, Butterflyweed, Asters|
|Gray Hairstreak||Clover, Mallow, Mint, Hibiscus, Corn, Oak||Milkweed, Goldenrod, Sweet clover, Sweet pea, Queen Anne's lace|
|Monarch||Milkweeds||Milkweed, Goldenrod, Cosmos, Joe Pye Weed, Thistle, Gayfeather, Lilac, Lantana|
|Great Spangled Fritillary||Violets||Thistle, Joe Pye Weed, Black-eyed Susan, Milkweed, Coneflowers, Bee Balm|
|Mourningcloak||Willow, Elm, Poplar, Birch, Hackberry||Rotting fruit, Sap, Milkweed, Shasta Daisy|
|Painted Lady||Thistle, Legumes, Knapweed, Burdock, Hollyhock, Common mallow||Thistle, Joe Pye Weed, Aster, Bee Balm, Gayfeather, Zinnia, Milkweed, Sweet William|
|Red Admiral||Nettles, False nettles||Rotting fruit, Sap, Aster, Thistle, Dandelion, Ageratum, Gayfeather, Goldenrod, Red clover, Shasta daisy, Dahlia|
|Common Name||Botanical Name||Host plant||Nectar Plant||Bloom Time*|
|Aster||Aster spp.||x||x||late summer|
|Bee Balm||Monarda didyma||x||mid-summer|
|Black-eyed Susan||Rudbeckia spp.||x||x||mid-summer|
|Butterfly bush||Buddleia spp.||x||mid-summer|
|Butterfly weed||Asclepias tuberosa||x||late summer|
|Hollyhock (single flower species)||Alcea rosea||x||x||mid-summer|
|Pearly everlasting||Anaphalis margaritacea||x||mid-summer|
|Stonecrop; Sedum||Sedum spp.||x||x||late summer|
|Sunflower||Helianthus spp.||x||x||late summer|
|Sweet William; Pinks||Dianthus spp.||x||x||mid-summer|
|*The bloom time listed for these perennials is when they are in peak bloom. This may vary slightly depending on hardiness zone. Most of these plants bloom for three to four weeks, although some may stay in bloom quite a bit longer, even up to the first frost.|
|Common Name||Botanical Name||Host plant||Nectar Plant||Bloom Time*|
|Cosmos ‘Sensation’||Cosmos bipinnatus||x||early summer|
|Parsley||Petroselinum crispum||x||x||early summer|
|Sweet slyssum||Lobularia maritima||x||x||early summer|
|*The bloom time listed for these annuals is when they first come into bloom for the growing season. This may vary slightly depending on hardiness zone. These species generally stay in bloom throughout the growing season until the first hard frost.|
|Common Name||Botanical Name||Bloom Time|
|Red Buckeye||Aesculus pavia||spring|
|Northern Catalpa||Catalpa speciosa||spring|
|Bottlebrush buckeye||Aesculus parviflora||early summer|
|Weigela (red flowered varieties)||Weigela florida||spring|
|Beards tongue||Penstemon barbatus||early summer|
|Cardinal flower||Lobelia cardinalis||early summer|
|Coral Bells||Heuchera sanguinea||spring|
|Delphinium||Delphinium x elatum||mid-summer|
|Gayfeather||Liatris spicata||early summer|
|Gladiola||Gladiolus x hortulanus||mid-summer|
|Fuchsia||Fuchsia x hybrida||mid-summer|
|Impatiens||Impatiens wallerana||early summer|
|Morning Glory||Ipomoea purpurea||early summer|
|Petunia||Petunia x hybrida||early summer|
|Pineapple Sage||Salvia elegans||mid-summer|
|Red Salvia||Salvia splendens||mid-summer|
|Scarlet Runner Bean||Phaseolus coccineus||late summer|
|Trumpet Vine||Campsis radicans||mid-summer|
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