Painted Lady Butterfly

Butterflies are a very popular species for gardeners and there are many resources on the subject. One of the best books on the subject is called Butterfly Gardening: Creating Summer Magic in Your Garden and it’s published by The Xerces Society and The Smithsonian Institution with an introduction by E. O. Wilson.

Many books about wildlife gardening are very limited on information and they’re usually written from a specific region and therefor don’t give consideration to other regions when it comes to their plant listings or what wildlife species they talk about.

Butterfly Gardening: Creating Summer Magic in Your Garden is a very thorough book and covers a great many topics, all written by different authors, specialists in their fields. Among the highlights are a chapter on butterfly vision detailing the range of color they can see into the ultraviolet spectrum which helps shed further light on what plants we choose for butterflies. The following chapter is a very good look at the lifecycle of the butterfly and all the aspects of survival. To attract wildlife to any landscape it’s important to understand the lifeycle of any species in order to create the best design. For butterflies understanding the lifecycle helps to design a landscape for all of the stages of a butterfly, from egg, to caterpillar to pupa to adult.

One of the key chapters for backyard designers is a chapter devoted to the design of butterfly gardens. This chapter breaks down the design by first analyzing which species to play for, what their favorite nectar plants and larval food are. Then it discusses the many aspects of butterfly design such as sunny ares, open areas for basking, wind protection, maintenance and finally design style. Included are various layouts for different sized gardens and a small plant list, with a larger one in the index including region notes for each plant.

The following chapter is equally valuable and probably not something most people think of when planning a butterfly garden, but an important piece to help make it successful. Beneficial insects help enormously because pesticides are not an option as butterflies are extremely sensitive to them. Attracting beneficial insects requires almost as much thought as attracting other wildlife species. The benefit is to the plants which butterflies require in all of their life stages and the additional insects provide further food for birds, they also help keep the soil fertile and aerated and pollinate specialized flowers. The best way to attract them is with specific plants, they’re nectar drinkers too. The chapter has a good description of the types of plants that will help most.

Another chapter I very much enjoyed was devoted to the less sought after, but equally engaging moths. The chapter talks about attracting them, watching them and even photographing them. There’s another chapter later on that delves more into techniques of butterfly photography and is still helpful in the digital world today.

I highly recommend this book for everyone from homeowners to landscape designers, landscape architects and anyone who might plan a landscape.

There are also a number of really good online resources covering a good many of these same topics, if in less detail.

Enticing Predators to Patrol Your Garden from the National Wildlife Federation is a good article about the topic of beneficial insects discussed above.

Butterfly Gardens and Habitats Program is from the North American Butterfly Association and has some good information about regional plants, design info and a certification program. Some of the documents include: Butterfly Biology, Butterfly Habitat Management, Basics of Butterfly Gardening and more.

Western Washington Top Butterfly Nectar Flowers is one of the plant lists as referred to above by the North American Butterfly Association.

Common Butterflies of the Puget Sound Region and their Food Plants is a good regional resource from the Washington Butterfly Association, the regional chapter of the North American Butterfly Association.

Butterflies and How to Attract Them is a good regional resource from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and part of their Backyard Sanctuary program. This website also has gardening information in addition to a plant list and a description of common Pacific Northwest butterflies.

Create a Butterfly Garden is yet another regional resource from the Oregon State University Extension Service also with design guidance, a plant list and butterfly description.

Selecting Plants for Pollinators is another good plant resource from the Pollinator Partnership. They have many guides that can be downloaded for a variety of regions throughout the US and their guides include not only butterflies but moths as well. They also focus on bats, birds, bees beetles and even flies which could provide additional information for attracting beneficial insects. In addition the documents provide a general overview of the specific region. To find your regional specific guide enter your zip code on their website.

Butterflies and Moths of North America has a great map that allows you to click on your region all the way down to county to find out what species are in your city.

Design for Moths:: The Metropolitan Field Guide

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Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner is a naturalist, writer and photographer based in Seattle. She is the author of NATURE OBSCURA: A City’s Hidden Natural World, coming Spring 2020 from Mountaineers Books. She writes freelance articles about natural history and has bylines in Crosscut, ParentMap, National Wildlife Magazine and others. On the side she writes fiction.

Kelly holds a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon and a certificate in non-fiction writing from the University of Washington.
Kelly Brenner
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