I hear the term “butterfly garden” used quite often. As you know, it’s meant to describe a garden with a butterfly-friendly theme. It’s intended to attract butterflies. Unfortunately, I often see that many of the plants used are not native. In some cases, none of them were. To me, that’s confusing. You aren’t going to see nearly as many native butterflies if you don’t use native plants. They go hand in hand. Sure, you’ll see some butterflies here and there, but just because they might fly over to it, doesn’t mean it’s beneficial to them. People see the butterflies, so they believe they’ve created a butterfly garden, but the butterflies might have flown over simply because of the color of a flower, whether or not it was a real food source.
Silver-spotted Skipper on non-native Cornflower. Silver-Spotted Skippers are often attracted to the color blue. A native blue plant would be an ideal choice over this Cornflower.
There are certain native plants that are better attractors for certain species of butterflies, and that is something that can be researched, but native nectar plants are always the ideal way to go, no matter what. I recently saw a video of a school planting a Monarch Waystation. Sure enough, some of the nectar plants were not native to that area. That seems ironic to me. Sure, the nectar plants will help the Monarchs, but it’s much deeper than that. The Monarch Butterfly is a native insect that needs help, but it’s only one of many insect and animal species that are in decline. Even though it’s the insect people mostly talk about, it’s far from the only one in trouble. When you plant a variety of native plants, you also help many other declining species. You give them host plants to lay eggs on. You give them familiar nectar sources. That’s the habitat that these insects originated from. It’s the habitat best suited for them. I greatly believe that butterfly gardens need to be exclusively native to truly be a successful butterfly garden.
Monarch Butterfly on native Orange Milkweed. Milkweed is both a nectar source and a host plant for Monarchs. Milkweed is required for certified Monarch Waystations
Certain plants grow in certain areas for specific reasons. Those same reasons are why certain insects live in those areas, and certain amphibians and reptiles live in those areas, and certain mammals and birds live in those areas. Everything in nature evolved together. A plant from Europe may feed native insects in North America, but it can’t replace the habitat native plants create. A plant from North America may feed native insects in Europe, but again, it’s not a reliable substitute for the habitat that the native insects of Europe rely on.
Red Admiral on native Liatris. Red Admirals use nectar as a food source only when their main food sources, such as tree sap, can’t be found.
When you plant a butterfly garden, please only use native plants. The same goes for wildlife gardens and pollinator gardens, too. When you start a garden for nature, make sure you provide the same things that nature does. Plants that are native to your country are good, and plants that are native to your exact area are perfect!
Monarch Caterpillar eating a milkweed seedpod. (As far as this butterfly specie is concerned, there is no substitute for milkweed. Milkweed is necessary for it to survive.) Surrounded the milkweed is Gaillardia, which is a fantastic nectar source for many insects.