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Butterfly Gardens for Your Region

I grew up in the city surrounded by asphalt and concrete sidewalks, brick buildings and vacant lots – but there was no lack of nature or butterflies in my life. Amid the sprawl of a decaying urban landscape, the overgrown vacant lots choked with ‘weeds’ attracted so many butterflies that they would perch on my shoulders and hands if I was still enough. These ‘accidental’ butterfly gardens provided all the ingredients that butterflies require to congregate en masse. These same ingredients can turn your garden into a fairy wonderland of fluttering wings and color.

Over the past thirty years, butterfly gardening has become popular, both to attract the beautiful travelers and to help preserve species of butterflies that were dwindling due to human encroachment into their natural habitats. If you’re planning a butterfly garden, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no one recipe for a successful garden. Butterfly species that are indigenous to different areas are attracted to different types of plants. In order to foster butterflies, you’ll need to know the butterfly species that are found in your area, and provide them with plants that are favored food sources for adult butterflies as well as those plants that they prefer for laying their eggs and nourishing larva.

There are, however, some standards that apply to all butterfly gardens. Wherever you live and whatever butterflies you hope to attract, you’ll attract more of them if you follow a few simple basics:

Plant flowers in clumps and drifts.
Butterflies will flock to large expanses of flowers in similar colors that bloom at the same time rather than to single plants with just a few blooms. A carpet of violets, a sea of buttercups or a wide open field full of Queen Anne’s Lace is sure to be visited by dozens of butterflies.

Butterfly gardens need to provide both sun and shade.
Like all insects, butterflies are cold-blooded creatures. They thrive on warm sun, and will bask on flat rocks or perch for long minutes on the branches of a high bush in the sunlight. At the same time, they need shade and shelter when the sun is too hot, or on cool, cloudy days. An area that gets bright sun for at least 4-6 hours per day is the best spot for a butterfly garden, but don’t forget to include landscaping details that offer shade.

Butterflies love puddles.
Add a sunken birdbath to your garden, or provide a cluster of rocks that traps rain water to give butterflies a cool spot where they can indulge their love of standing water.

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Regional Butterfly Species and Plants
Different species of butterflies frequent different parts of the country. You can find more information about which plants are best for your area at a local nursery, or the agricultural extension unit at a local university. For quick reference, though, here’s a short list of butterflies and plants that they love by region.

Northeastern N. America
From W. Virginia up through Quebec and as far west as Indiana and Ohio
Butterflies: Swallowtails (black, spicebush and tiger), Cabbage White, Pearl Crescent, Monarch, Buckeye, Red-spotted Purple, Great Spangled Fritillary
Plants: Milkweed (monarchs), fennel, parsley, carrot and dill (black swallowtails), spicebush (spicebush swallowtails), nasturtium (cabbage white), violets (great spangled fritillary), willow, birch, beech, aspen, wild cherry (many species)
Nectar Flowers: Buddleia, Heliotrope, Lantana, Milkweed, Mint, Pentas, Porterweed, Verbena and Zinnias.

Southeastern U.S.
Butterflies: Swallowtails (black, spicebush, tiger and pipevine), Buckeye, Pearl Crescent, Monarch, Cloudless Sulphur, Gulf Fritillary, Red-spotted purple
Plants: Fennel, carrot, spicebush, dill, parsley, pipevine (swallowtails), wild cherry, poplar, sassafras, passiflora, wild senna, asters, milkweed
Nectar Flowers: same as northeast

Southern Florida
Butterflies: Polydamas swallowtail, giant swallowtail, zebra longwing, Julia, gulf fritillary, orange-barred sulphur, cloudless sulphur, monarch, queen
Plants: milkweed, wild senna, passiflora, wild lime, citrus, dutchman’s pipe

Butterflies: Swallowtails, Buckeye, Cloudless Sulphur, Pearl Crescent, Cabbage White, Monarch, Viceroy
Plants: Pipevines, fennel, carrot, dill, parsley, violets, nasturtium, wild senna, asters, snapdragon, verbena, cabbage, milkweed

New Mexico, Texas
Butterflies: Patch, Hackberry, Monarch, Pearl Crescent, Question Mark, Buckeye, Cloudless Sulphur, Gulf Fritillary
Plants: sunflowers, passiflora, hackberry, wild senna, milkweed, nettles, asters

Arizona, California, Nevada
Butterflies: Western tiger swallowtail, anise swallowtail, two-tailed swallowtail, black swallowtail, pale swallowtail, pipevine swallowtail, cloudless sulphur, west coast lady,  Monarch, gulf fritillary
Plants: Fennel, carrots, parsley, dill, wild senna, wild plums, buckthorns, wild cherries, wild lilacs, hollyhocks, ashes, willows, aspens, poplars

Western States and Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta
Butterflies: Western tiger swallowtail, pale swallowtail, cabbage white, striped hairstreak, Wiedemeyer’s Admiral, mourning cloak, monarch, great spangled fritillary, painted lady
Plants: wild plums and cherries, aspen, willow, poplar, sunflowers, buckthorns, wild lilacs, nasturtium, blueberries, ashes, violet, chokecherry