5 Butterflies To Attract In Your Garden
Categories : Gardening Tips
5 Butterflies To Attract In Your Garden
Butterflies can bring incredible benefits to your garden. Not only are they exceptionally beautiful creatures, but they're also important pollinators. That's why we need to encourage butterflies into our gardens.
Many butterfly species depend on specific plants to feed their caterpillars. If butterflies can't find these plants, they can be vulnerable to extinction. Some butterflies also prefer to harvest pollen from particular plants.
In this article, we'll look at five fantastic butterfly species and how to attract them into your garden.
1. Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Despite being one of Britain's most common species, red admirals are still breathtaking butterflies. They're easily recognisable, with black bodies and wings with bright red markings and white dots on their wingtips. Red admirals are found all across the UK in virtually any habitat and are active throughout the year.
Remember those nettles that stung you as a kid? They're actually vital to the survival of red admirals. These butterflies only lay their eggs on members of the nettle family, such as the common or stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). These “weeds” are the perfect food source for red admiral caterpillars.
Cutting down a patch of nettles in the autumn could do more harm than good. Red admirals lay their eggs from March until September. This means that later batches of caterpillars rely on having nettles available during the autumn. If you have a patch of wild nettles in your garden, leave them be.
As adults, red admirals need nectar. While rotting fruit is their favourite source, red admirals will collect nectar from flowers such as:
- China Asters (Callistephus chinensis) such as China Aster Scarlet
- Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) especially 'Purple Coneflower'
- Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) like Milkweed Carmine
- Thistles (Cardus spp.) including Milk Thistle
Planting some of these species will help attract more red admirals to your garden.
2. Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)
Brimstones are a large, beautifully bright species typically found in woodland areas. They are found in most areas of England and Wales but are rarely seen in Northern Ireland or Scotland. Adults can be spotted on warmer days throughout the year.
Male brimstones have glorious yellow wings, while females are more of a pale green-white colour. Both sexes have distinctive orange spots in the centre of their underwings. Legend has it that the shimmering yellow colours of the brimstone actually coined the term “butterfly”.
Brimstones depend on common and alder buckthorn trees as nurseries for their caterpillars. Eggs are laid in the summer. Once the large green caterpillars hatch, they much through the buckthorn leaves before pupating.
When the adults emerge towards the end of summer, they'll require nectar from flowers like:
- Dandelions (Taraxacum spp.)
- Knapweed (Centaurea spp.) including Giant Knapweed
- Primroses (Primula spp.) like 'Potsdam Giants' primroses
- Thistles (Cardus spp.) such as Milk Thistle
Bring the dazzling brimstone butterfly to your garden by cultivating these plants.
3. Yellow Swallowtail (Papilio machaon)
As the UK's largest butterfly, few species are as stunning as the yellow swallowtail. Sadly, these magnificent insects are also one of Britain's most endangered butterflies. Due to the loss of their distinctive habitats, yellow swallowtails are now confined only to the fens and marshes of the Norfolk Broads.
Yellow swallowtails have large yellow wings with black and purple markings on the upperwings. The underwings feature more black markings along with greenish patches. Swallowtails get their name from the curved “tails” that extend from their lower wings.
The dramatic lack of their caterpillar food plants is one of the reasons why yellow swallowtails are so endangered. These butterflies lay their eggs on the rare milk-parsley plant (Peucedanum palustre) that only grows in specific wetland habitats such as fens.
Because many of these habitats have been lost in recent decades, the number of yellow swallowtails declined in the UK. But thanks to conservation efforts and the gradual restoration of fens, the species could be saved from extinction.
As adults, Yellow swallowtails don't depend on specific plants for their food. These stunning butterflies will occasionally visit bigger gardens looking for flowers like:
- Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
- Thistles (Cardus spp.) like Milk Thistle
- Yellow irises (Iris pseudacorus)
If you're lucky enough to live near the Norfolk Broads, include these plants in your garden to attract yellow swallowtails.
4. Green-underside Blue (Glaucopsyche alexis)
Although the Green-underside blue isn't native to the UK, a few scattered sightings have been recorded. These beautiful butterflies are usually found in Europe but can be blown across the Channel by strong winds.
It's easy to confuse the green-underside blue with some of the native blue butterflies in the UK, such as the common blue. Like these native species, the green-underside blue has bright blue upperwings. It also has light green underwings decorated with a series of black spots.
In their native environment, green-underside blues are active from April through until July. Green-underside blues lay their eggs on vetch plants and other legumes such as broad beans, lentils, or peas. These types of plants are the main food source for green-underside blue caterpillars.
Should you encounter this rare species in your garden, keep green-underside blue butterflies happy by planting crops and flowers such as:
- Broad beans (Vicia faba)
- Lentils (Lens spp.)
- Peas (Pisum spp.) like Pisum sativum
- Vetches (Vicia spp.) such as milk-vetch
5. Apollo (Parnassius apollo)
Apollo butterflies hail from the same family as the yellow swallowtail but are even rarer in the UK. These large butterflies are typically found in mountainous or alpine regions of Europe. Occasionally, an apollo butterfly might get blown off course by strong winds before appearing in the UK.
Apollo butterflies have greyish-white wings with black markings on their forewings and vibrant red spots on their hindwings. Apollo butterflies have an impressive size that rivals their yellow swallowtail cousins.
Because they usually live in mountain meadows, apollo butterflies lay their eggs on alpine plants like Houseleeks (Sempervivum spp.) and Stonecrops (Sedum spp.). Adult apollos will also extract nectar from flowers such as:
- Sea thrift (Armeria maritima)
- Sheep's-bit (Jasione montana)
If you have an alpine theme in your garden, you might be lucky enough to attract a wayward apollo butterfly.
Why are butterflies so important?
As well as their beautiful colours and fascinating flight patterns, butterflies can help any gardener get the most out of their plot. Whether you're cultivating a fabulous flower display or growing crops like fruits and vegetables, most of the plants in your garden need pollen to reproduce.
Thankfully, there are over 1500 species of pollinators (including bees and butterflies) that can help you out. Like bees, butterflies collect pollen on their bodies when they farm flowers for nectar. As they flutter from plant to plant, butterflies distribute pollen throughout your garden.
Bees are more efficient pollinators because they can coat their bodies with more pollen. But butterflies can actually carry pollen over greater distances than bees, making them just as vital.
Butterflies can also be a good sign of the health of your garden ecosystem. More butterflies mean more biodiversity, both in terms of plants and other creatures. If the butterflies suddenly begin to disappear, it can be a symptom of problems in your garden.
Do's and Don'ts of attracting butterflies
Here are a few tips to help you encourage butterflies into your garden.
DO plant food and nectar plants
Most species of butterflies need to lay their eggs on particular food plants. These plants provide caterpillars with the perfect food source to develop into beautiful butterflies. Many species also seek out the nectar from specific flowers.
Ensuring that your garden contains the right food and nectar plants for a range of butterfly species makes a huge difference. For example, to attract red admirals, allow nettles to grow as food plants for the caterpillars while cultivating flowers like echinacea or thistles for the adults.
DON'T cut down food plants
While a patch of wild nettles or a rogue buckthorn bush might look out of place in a carefully managed garden, removing these plants could cripple your butterfly population. If your garden contains some of the food and nectar plants listed above, keep them around to help your butterflies thrive.
DO leave out rotting fruits
This might sound strange, but throwing old or overripe fruit into your compost bin can be a real waste. Rotting fruits are an important food source for butterflies because they contain lots of sugars. Decaying fruit is a particular favourite of red admirals. So next time you want to throw some fruit away, leave it out for your butterfly buddies instead.
DON'T use pesticides
Like many pollinating insects, butterflies are exceptionally vulnerable to chemical pesticides. These products can poison the food or nectar plants used by your butterflies. Nettles are a good example. Killing them off with weedkiller prevents red admirals from laying their eggs on the nettles.
Wherever possible, use organic pesticides or alternative methods that won't harm the plants your butterflies depend on.