Search the site:
Illinois Country Living

August 2007 Issue: FeatureCommentaryCurrents SafetyGardenEnergy SolutionsFinest Cooking

Yard & Garden

Beautiful Butterfly Pollinators
How to attract butterflies to your yard and garden

David Robson
Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension.

Chasing butterflies has been a favorite summer past time of kids for generations. We'd carefully sneak up on them, holding out our stubby fingers in the hopes of grabbing their wings before they'd fly away.

More often than not, we'd be grasping at air as the butterfly or moth took to the air with a couple flaps of its wings, only to land a few feet away or back in the same place.

Unfortunately, butterflies are becoming harder and harder to find. Land development has destroyed much of the natural habit and plants that butterflies require in order to survive. Ditches are being mowed. Weeds are being eradicated.

Most of our landscapes are relatively sterile with large patches or acres of turf, some trees and flowers. And those of us who love trees actually hurt the butterfly population, as trees become natural habitats for birds, one of the worst predators for caterpillars.

While most of us think of bees as natural pollinators, butterflies and moths do the same thing. There are some things you can do to attract more butterflies to your yard.

First, provide a source of water. A few low bowls or saucers scattered around the yard in open areas will provide them the water they need. Even a continually wet sponge will do the trick. Birdbaths won't be attractive to the butterflies, especially if birds are cavorting in the water.

Next, cut down on your use of chemicals. Most insecticides will kill the caterpillars. Granted, if you want broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower, you'll probably be attempting to control the worms. Just don't use any of the products indiscriminately. Keep them just on the plants you want to be caterpillar free.

Find plants that the caterpillars and adults like. Often they aren't the same, but in some cases, you may be lucky and have a plant the caterpillars and butterflies enjoy.

Butterflies don't have chewing mouthparts. For them, flowers that are flat topped or clustered and have short flower tubes are ideal. The "tube" flowers tend to be the main attraction for butterflies. This allows butterflies to reach the nectar with their long tongue-like proboscis or mouthparts.

Adults searching for nectar are attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink or purple blossoms. Nectar producing plants should be grown in open, sunny areas since adults rarely feed on plants in the shade. Favorites include wild columbine, milkweed, purple coneflower, zinnia, salvia, marigold, salvia, verbenas, goldenrod, New England aster and white prairie clover.

Put in large patches of dill, fennel or parsley to attract the swallowtails, which will lay eggs, resulting in caterpillars that will devour those plants. However, the more members of the carrot family you have, the more likely you'll have colorful swallowtails.

Butterfly weed (Ascelpias) and butterfly plants (Buddleia) are two popular butterfly plants, though both may be difficult to winter over in the garden above I-70, though most people probably lost the butterfly bushes this year due to April's freeze. Provide some protection and a well-drained soil.

Butterfly weed looks like milkweed, a close relative. This is the plant that caterpillars like to eat the leaves, but never enough to damage the plant.

Butterflies need a place to rest during the evening or on windy days. Unfortunately, butterfly houses aren't the best and are seldom used. Shrubs and small open trees are the best bets.

More Information:

check out the University of Illinois Web site at:
You can contact David Robson via E-mail:

Or write to him in care of:

Illinois Country Living
P.O. Box 3787,
Springfield, IL 62708.

Telephone: (217) 782-6515


© 2007 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

Current Issue Archive About Us Advertisers Contact Us FAQ