March 4, 2009

Host Caterpillars in a Butterfly Garden

From egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. This life-cycle of only 6-8 weeks is so fast that we are fascinated and amazed. We see the change taking place before our eyes. Butterfly habitats are endangered and we can help.

Most "butterfly garden" plans that I've seen include only the nectar plants for butterflies. To increase the butterfly population, we need to include host plants.

Have caterpillars eaten up some of your garden plants? You were probably growing a host plant and didn't know it. A host plant provides food and nourishment for the caterpillar. Different butterflies prefer different hosts. I grow bronze fennel for Black Swallowtail butterflies. My willows host Tiger Swallowtails. I grow milkweed for Monarchs.

Since the plants are meant to be eaten, I surround the host plants with other perennials to keep the garden looking good. My bronze fennel stands at the back of my butterfly garden, but I can walk behind it and count the caterpillars. I'd like to attract more butterflies to my garden.

What are some of the other host plants? The best place to start is with what butterflies will be in your area, then decide what to plant. Here are a few interesting links, but if you also search by state, or region, you may find specific information your your garden.

Monarch Watch
The Butterfly Site
Blossom Swap
Carolina Nature (North Carolina)

One of our fellow garden bloggers, Randy Emmitt, also has a butterfly site, Butterflies of the Carolinas and Virginia that provides details of the butterflies, the range, habitat and fabulous photos.

Maybe you already have host plants, maybe not. Here's my plea to all gardeners. Please add at least one more host plant to your garden this year! I know that photographing butterflies can be tricky, but caterpillars don't move very fast! Let's start to love these little critters and raise awareness by posting their cute faces on our blogs this summer and fall. Are you up for the challenge?

Story and photos by Freda Cameron
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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