Butterfly Gardening

Approximately 100 species of butterflies can be found in Cook County. Loss of habitat due to the constant development of open lands affects all types of wildlife, including insects. Many butterflies have very specific needs. It would be almost impossible to recreate an entire habitat, but by planting gardens to meet these unique needs, we can supplement natural areas for feeding and reproducing.

 

A butterfly garden should provide a good source of nectar for adult butterflies, food for the larval or caterpillar stage, and provide a beautiful place to obscure and enjoy butterflies.

 

NECTAR FLOWERS

NECTAR FLOWERS

 

Most adult butterflies feed on the nectar of many different flowers, while some have favorites they will frequent. The following list of nectar flowers chosen based on the suggestions of experts, availability and the constraints of the local growing season.

 

  • Butterfly Weed
  • Day Lily (not orange)
  • Assorted Mints
  • Lavender
  • Cosmos
  • Hollyhock
  • Cleome or Spider Plant
  • Salvia (blue or red)
  • Daisies
  • Petunia
  • Liatrus
  • Joe-Pye-Weed
  • Coneflower
  • Forget-me-nots
  • Zinnia
  • Asters (wild and garden)
  • Alyssum (purple and white)
  • Pink Phlox
  • Marigolds (all kinds)
  • Basil

 

LIFE HISTORY

LIFE HISTORY

 

The larva of some butterflies feed only on certain plants. Planting as many of these specific plants as possible provides the opportunity to observe different species of butterflies in the different stages of their life cycle. For example, the caterpillar of the monarch butterfly feeds exclusively on plants of the milkweed family. By planting butterfly weed, a beautiful orange flowered milkweed, it is possible that monarch butterflies will visit your garden to lay eggs on these plants.

 

When the eggs hatch into tiny caterpillars, they will feed on the leaves until they are full grown. At that time, they will crawl away and attach themselves to a protected spot where they will begin a miraculous change. When their skin is shed for the last time, a beautiful pale green chrysalis is exposed. Within this chrysalis the change from caterpillar to butterfly will occur. In about two weeks the adult butterfly will emerge, mate and lay eggs, completing the cycle.

 

GARDEN DESIGN

GARDEN DESIGN

 

If you would like to design a butterfly garden of your own, these are a few important things to keep in mind.

 

  1. Fragile butterfly wings will benefit from the presence of some tall plants, offering protection from strong breezes.
  2. Large clumps of colorful blossoms seem to be more attractive to butterflies than single flowers, especially when contrasting colors are planted side by side.
  3. For the best view, remember to vary the heights of all the plants from the shortest to tallest.
  4. A source of water (a small pool, fountain or just a dripping container) could become the highlight of the garden as butterflies and birds flock for a drink or bath.
  5. Don’t forget to allow some spaces in the garden for access to chores such as weeding, planting, etc. Chipped paths or stone walkways work well.

 

BUTTERFLY LIST

BUTTERFLY LIST

 

The following is a list of butterflies found in Cook County and some of the plants on which their caterpillars feed. These butterflies are common locally and may be seen in appropriate habitats.

 

Butterfly Host Plants
    Monarch
    Milkweed family including butterfly weed*
    Fritillaries
    Common wood violets*, pansies* and violas*
    Buckeye
    Plantain, figwort, vervain and snapdragon*
    Red Spotted Purple
    Willows, poplars, aspens, cherries, hawthorns, apples, and hornbeams
    Painted Lady
    Daisies*, hollyhocks*, thistles, and mallows
    Common Sulfur
    Clovers* and other legumes
    Pearl Crescent
    Asters*
    Eastern Black Swallowtail
    Dill*, parsley, carrots and Queen Ann’s Lace
    Eastern Tailed Blue
    A variety of legumes including beans, peas, clovers and sweet peas
    Mourning Cloak
    Locust, willow, elm, hackberry and cottonwood
    Comma
    Hops, nettles, and elms
    Question Mark
    Hackberry, nettles, elms, and related trees
    Tiger Swallowtail
    A wide variety of trees including willows, cottonwoods, birches, ashes, and cherries
    Viceroy
    Willows, apples, poplars, aspens, cherries, and plums
    Hackberry
    Hackberry trees only
    Silver-spotted Skipper
    Wisteria, locusts, beggar’s tick, beans, and licorice
    Red Admiral
    Nettles (don’t plant in garden)
    American Copper
    Curly dock and sheep sorrel
    Spicebush Swallowtail
    Sassafras and spicebush
* The plants that are starred (*) are easily cultivated and have been successful in the butterfly garden at Forest Preserve District’s Sand Ridge Nature Center.

 

A garden is a constantly evolving production, so there will always be surprises and disappointments. Different soils and garden conditions will impact choices made in individual gardens. Good Luck in your ventures into butterfly gardening.

 

A SPECIAL NOTE

A SPECIAL NOTE

 

There are a few plants which the Illinois Department of Conservation requests that we DO NOT plant. These plants are undesirable due to their detrimental effects on native habitats.

 

These are:

 

  • Purple Loosestrife
  • Japanese Honeysuckle
  • Glossy Buckthorn
  • Amur Honeysuckle
  • Multiflora Rose
  • Autumn Olive
  • Winged Wahoo (Burning Bush)
  • Silver Poplar
  • Crown Vetch

Visit two of the treasures of the Forest Preserves of Cook County