Who doesn’t like butterflies? Don’t they have such a magical ethereal quality about them. Here is an idea for enjoying your garden whilst helping the environment and New Zealand native biodiversity.
Despite its favourable climate New Zealand can only account for 23 species of butterfly. Of these 23 species of butterfly, 11 are native and 12 have been introduced. This is not a great number when other countries, such as Japan, have 225 species. What it does mean is that our species of butterflies are very special and we need to look after them.
One way of doing this is to create a butterfly garden in your own backyard. Planting carefully selected plants helps to preserve many species of butterflies that are threatened by the ongoing destruction of their habitat. It also brings plants and flowers back into populated urban areas along with some of natures most beautiful creatures.
Attracting butterflies into your garden is not difficult. Butterflies have highly sensitive smell and can smell their favourite plants many miles away. They will feed off nectar, lay eggs and remain nearby as long as there is ample food and habitat.
The basic design elements of a butterfly garden are:-
- a sunny location
- shelter from wind
- nectar-rich blooms
- host plants where they can lay eggs
- moist sand or mud for ‘puddling’
- flat rocks or other light coloured flat surfaces for basking
- a pesticide spray free garden.
To successfully attract butterflies and keep them visiting, you need to plant a variety of both host and nectar plants. Some plants can serve both purposes. By incorporating a variety of plants, including trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials, at different heights and bloom times many species of butterflies will visit throughout the year. You will also have an attractive, colourful, and interesting garden for your own enjoyment.
Some of the nectar plants which grow well in our climate include:-
- Bee balm (Monarda)
- Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
- Coneflower (Echinacea)
- Goldenrod (Solidage)
- Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum)
- Lantana (Virburnum)
- Marigold (Tagete (single petal varieties))
- Mexican sunflower (Tithonia)
- Phlox (Phlox)
- Sweet William (Dianthus)
- Verbena (Verbena)
- White Alyssum (Alyssum)
- Zinnia (Zinnia)
- Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
- Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
Butterflies have quite specific requirements of the host plant, which they use to lay their eggs on and the caterpillars use as their main food source. The Monarch butterfly requires the leaves of the swan plant to live. Red and Yellow Admiral caterpillars breed on nettles. Ragwort will attract magpie moths and their woolly black caterpillars. These plants may not be the most attractive garden plants but you could use a corner of the garden out of sight for these plants.
To attract New Zealand native species it helps to live near native bush. The Forest Ringlet breeds on Chionochloa grass. The Common Copper butterfly lives on Muehlenbeckia species. Other native species use gorse and other legume species and lawn clover.
Have a go at creating a garden which is environmentally sound, a colourful and attractive space to be in, whilst providing a unique and valued habitat for one of natures much loved creatures. Enjoy it knowing you are helping the environment at the same time.