Owing to the decrease in the natural habitats, gardens are becoming more important to the survival of British butterflies. We as gardeners can help them flourish by providing plants that are attractive to butterflies.
The species of butterfly which may visit your garden will vary depending on
where you live in the country, soil type and what else is around the area
e.g. heathland, woodland or meadows.
Research has shown that most British butterflies favour blue, yellow and white flowers, though scent and size of flower also determine which species feed on which plants. The Small Tortoiseshell is probably our most frequent garden diner, and will visit almost all flowers its 14mm proboscis can reach.
Not all butterflies feed on flowers. Some, such as the Red Admiral, are also attracted to tree sap and rotting plums, and others to honey dew.
Most of us are familiar with the way that buddleia's attract a variety of butterflies, so much so that it is often known as the 'butterfly bush'. Other common garden plants, such as Sedum's and Lobelia attract Small Tortoiseshells and Whites respectively.
The most likely butterflies to visit you garden are listed below with the plants they enjoy.
A list of caterpillar food plants can be found here
|Brimstone||Aubretia, Buddleia, Lavender, Purple Loosestrife, Runner Bean, Scabious|
|Comma||Bramble, Budleia, Devilís-bit Scabious, Sedum spectabile|
|Common Blue||Birdís-foot-trefoil, Budleia, Lavender, Marjoram|
|Gatekeeper||Bramble, Budleia, Candytuft, Thyme|
|Holly Blue||Bramble, Escallonia|
|Large White||Aubretia, Bugle, Budleia, Candytuft, Common Thistle, Lavender, Nasturtium, ragged robin|
|Meadow Brown||Bramble, Budleia, Field Scabious, Lavender, Marjoram|
|Orange Tip||Aubretia, Bugle, Honesty, Sweet Rocket|
|Painted Lady||Aubretia, Buddleia, Hebe, Lavender, Common Ragwort, Red Valerian, Scabious|
|Peacock||Budleia, Common Ragwort, Common Thistle, Hemp Agrimony, Scabious.|
|Red Admiral||Aubretia, Budleia,Common Thistle, Ivy, Privet, Rotting fruit|
|Small Tortoiseshell||Aubretia, Budleia, Candytuft, Common Ragwort, Common Thistle, Michaelmas Daisy, Scabious,|
|Small White||Aubretia, Buddleia, Common Ragwort, Lavender, Ragged Robin|
|Speckled Wood||Budleia, Honey dew from aphids, Marjoram|
|Wall Brown||Budleia, Lavender, Red Valerian|
Butterflies need a certain amount of warmth before they become active, they will seek out sunny sheltered spots to warm themselves, before searching for nectar. A good butterfly garden doesn't have to be a wilderness.
When planning a butterfly garden choose a sheltered sunny spot which is warm in spring and autumn, this when planted with the flowering plants of those seasons, will provide a food source for over wintering butterflies. During the summer months this isn't quite so important as the sun is higher in the sky and so more of the garden is attractive to butterflies.
There are a wide variety flowering plants which will attract butterflies, buddleia (butterfly bush) being the most well known, many of which may already be providing a varied menu in your garden. Some other tasty morsals are below with rough flowering times to keep the butterflies coming back to your restaurant.
|Spring Flowering||Summer Flowering||Autumn Flowering||Plants for the wilder garden...|
Cornus - Willow family
Dwarf Golden Rod
When planting for butterflies we mustn't forget that these beautiful insects don't just appear. They have a larval stage which have different dining requirements to the adult butterflies. So don't forget to put something on the menu for the caterpillars.
Although sixty species of butterflies breed in the British Isles, many can't readily find the food their caterpillars need in our gardens, as they usually feed on native plants. Each species needs to lay it's eggs on or near the caterpillars food plant. You might enjoy having some caterpillars as residents in your garden 'restaurant', others may be less welcome, especially if they take a liking to your prize cabbages!
It is easy to see the adult butterflies as they flit around the garden, but you have to look closer for their eggs, pupa and caterpillars (larva). Often the first signs of these are holes appearing in the leaves of your plants. The eggs are generally around 1mm tall, difficult to identify and are either laid singly or in clusters on the backs of leaves or stems. The caterpillars are the eating machines, and are easiest to identify when fully grown.
Many of the caterpillar food plants below are well suited to being planted in wilder areas of the garden where they can munch away in peace, but remember caterpillars will appreciate a warm, sunny and sheltered spot as much as we do!
Caterpillars will often pupate and overwinter on dead vegetation, so try to avoid being too tidy with your garden, particularly where you know there have been caterpillars around.
|Brimstone||Alder Buckthorn, Purging Buckthorn|
|Comma||Currant, Elm, Hop, Stinging Nettle|
|Common Blue||Clover, Birds-foot Trefoil, Lesser Yellow Trefoil, Restharrow|
|Gatekeeper||Bents, Cocksfoot, Couch, Fescues|
|Holly Blue||Bramble, Gorse, Holly, Ivy|
|Large White||Plants in the cabbage family, Nasturtiums, Wild Mignonette|
|Meadow Brown||Grasses, especially Poa pratensis|
|Orange Tip||Arabis, Charlock, Cuckoo Flower, Garlic Mustard, Hedge Mustard, Honesty, Ladies Smock, Watercress|
|Painted Lady||Thistles, Burdocks, Mallows, Stinging Nettle|
|Red Admiral||Stinging Nettle, Hop|
|Small Tortoiseshell||Stinging Nettle|
|Small White||Plants in the cabbage family, Nasturtiums, Wild Mignonette|
|Speckled Wood||Annual Meadow Grass, Cocksfoot, Couch,|
|Wall Brown||Most of the common grasses|
Ragwort is a dangerous weed to livestock and is controlled by law:-
However, as with many species, it also has an important role to play in the ecosystem - please be aware of the law and use common sense if considering growing or allowing Ragwort to spread.
Silver Studded Blue
There is more information on Butterflies and Moths
from the UK and the rest of the World in our Wildlife Archive
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