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Attracting Butterflies to Mississippi Gardens

Butterflies provide a beautiful living element in the landscape. In addition to their myriad colors, sizes, and forms, they provide an important role of pollinating many wildflowers and woody plants. The key to attracting butterflies is to simply provide their food sources and other living needs, both for adults and caterpillars. While providing for these needs, beautiful flowering gardens are often created as well.

Certain butterfly species are specific to particular environments, ranging from deep shady woods to open sunny meadows and dunes. Each type selects a particular place according to a certain geographic elevation, latitude, available plant species, lack of predators, and other factors. In other words, the more variety of habitats and plants that you provide on your property, the more species of butterflies will occur.

The Butterfly Life Cycle

Though we most often enjoy and appreciate the winged adults, understanding the butterfly life cycle is important when encouraging butterflies. A butterfly's life begins as an egg that is laid on a particular host plant. Usually, the eggs are laid on the bottoms of the leaves and can vary widely in shape, form, size, and color. Within two weeks the tiny eggs hatch, and tiny caterpillars emerge. The larva consumes the host plant's leaves and will shed its skin several times as it grows. Get a caterpillar identification guide if you are concerned about which ones are harmful or helpful. In about a month, the larva is ready to form a chrysalis (pupa). After a few weeks, the magical transformation takes place and an adult butterfly is born. Most adult butterflies live for only a short time–some species must mate and live for just a few days–and others are known to last over a year.

The Butterfly Garden

A successful garden for attracting butterflies accommodates for their food, shelter, and breeding needs. Since butterflies are cold-blooded, they require sunny areas in order to warm up and move around. At night they hide under the cover of leaves of shrubs and trees, and thus need vegetated areas as well. Unless these needs are provided for in your neighborhood you will see few butterflies in your backyard. Avoid the use of pesticides in the garden.

Food

Butterfly food falls under two categories: host plants and nectar plants, both of which are necessary to continue populations. Host plants are specific plants that the eggs are laid on and that the caterpillars eat. Nectar plants are the flowering plants that the adult butterflies feed upon. The following is a list of both host and nectar plants that successfully grow in Mississippi.

HOST PLANTS

Common name

Scientific name

Butterfly types


HERBACEOUS PLANTS

 

Aster 
Clover 

Various grasses

Knotweed 
Mallow 
Marigold 
Milkweed 
Queen Anne's lace
Senna 
Snapdragon 
Sneezeweed 

Aster spp.
Trifolium spp. 

various

Polygonum spp. 
Malva spp. 
Tagetes spp. 
Asclepias spp. 
Daucus carota 
Cassia spp. 
Antirrhinum spp. 
Helenium spp. 

Pearl crescent
Clouded sulphur, eastern
tail blue
wood nymph, wood
satyr, skippers
Purplish copper
Gray hairstreak
Dainty sulphur
Monarch, queen
Swallowtails
Cloudless sulphur
Buckeye
Sulphurs


SHRUBS AND VINES

   

Blueberry 
False indigo 
Passionflower vine 
Pawpaw 
Pipevine 
Spicebush 

Vaccinium spp. 
Amorpha spp. 
Passiflora spp. 
Asimina triloba 
Aristolochia spp. 
Lindera benzoin 

Brown elfin
Dog face, silver skipper
Gulf fritillary, zebra
Zebra swallowtail
Pipevine swallowtail
Swallowtails


TREES

   

Cottonwood 


Birch 
Cherry 

Citrus 

Dogwood 
Elm 

Hackberry 


Locust
Oaks
Tulip poplar 
Willow

Populus spp. 


Betula spp. 
Prunus spp. 

Citrus spp. 

Cornus florida 
Ulmus spp. 

Celtis laevigata 


Robinia spp. 
Quercus spp. 
Liriodendron tulipifera
Salix spp. 

Admirals, red-spotted
purple, Viceroy,
mourning cloak
Mourning cloak, admirals
Red-spotted purple,
swallowtail
Anise swallowtail, giant
swallowtail
Spring azure
Comma, question mark,
mourning Cloak
Question mark, comma,
hackberry Butterfly,
tawny emporer, snout
Silver-spotted skipper
Sister, banded hairstreak
Swallowtails
Admirals, viceroy,
swallowtails

NECTAR PLANTS

Common name

Scientific name

Flowering time


HERBACEOUS PLANTS

 

Clover
Butterfly weed
Mountain mint 
Queen Anne's lace 
Thistle 
Bee balm 
Yarrow 
Aster 
Bidens 
Boneset 
Ironweed 
Joe-pye weed 
Ageratum 
Lantana 
Pentas 
Black eye susan 
Coreopsis 
Daylily 
Blazing star 

Trifolium
Asclepias spp. 
Pycnanthemum spp. 
Daucus carota 
Cirsium spp. 
Monarda spp. 
Achillea spp. 
Aster spp. 
Bidens aristosa 
Eupatorium spp. 
Vernonia spp. 
Eupatoriadelphus spp. 
Ageratum spp. 
Lantana camara 
Pentas spp. 
Rudbeckia spp. 
Coreopsis 
Hemerocallis spp. 
Liatris spp. 

Spring
Summer
Summer
Spring
Summer
Summer
Summer
Fall
Fall
Fall
Fall
Summer
Spring
Summer
Summer
Summer
Summer
Summer
Fall


SHRUBS

   

Rhododendron 
Spicebush 
Butterfly bush 
Buttonbush 
New Jersey tea 
Pepperbush 
Abelia 

Rhododendron spp. 
Lindera benzoin 
Buddleia davidii 
Cephalanthus occidentalis
Ceanothus americanus 
Clethra alnifolia 
Abelia x grandiflora 

Spring
Spring
Summer
Summer
Summer
Summer
Summer


TREES

   

Buckeye 
Cherry 
Willow 

Aesculus spp. 
Prunus spp. 
Salix spp. 

Spring
Spring
Spring

Shelter

These winged insects need shelter from the wind and rain, as well as a roosting place for the night. Shrub foliage is often used for protection, as well as sleeping quarters. You can create a butterfly shelter area by constructing a simple log pile in a corner of the back yard. Simply stack cut logs anywhere from 3 to 5 feet high and from 3 to 5 feet long. Be careful though, as this provides butterfly shelter it will also provide shelter for other wildlife as well.

Mud Puddles

Mud puddles are the way that some butterflies obtain additional water and minerals. Sulphurs, swallowtails, skippers, and blues will visit these wet areas. Simply provide a wet muddy area in the garden, or provide a man-made stream or pond where water can splash.

Rocks

A few flat stones placed in open sunny areas of the garden gives butterflies an area to warm up on cool mornings. They will also use brick or concrete patios, walkways, or decks for basking.


These factsheets were written by Robert F. Brzuszek, Assistant Extension Professor, The Department of Landscape Architecture, Mississippi State University.

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