CORVALLIS, Ore. – You can attract butterflies to your garden and enjoy one of most beautiful animals in nature. Simply provide a few essentials for the stages of their lives.
When they are caterpillars, butterflies and moths need host plants; as adults they need nectar, sun, water and shelter from the wind, according to Nancy Allen, wildlife biologist at Oregon State University. In return they pollinate flowers, provide food for other wildlife and give pleasure to the gardener.
Near-sighted by nature, butterflies rely heavily on fragrance, as well as color, to home in on blossoms. Fragrant nectar-producing flowers, such as lavender, lilac and honeysuckle are prized by adult butterflies.
The size and shape of flowers also are important. Larger butterflies, such as swallowtails, prefer to land on flowers with large, composite heads that offer them a stable platform for feeding. Large composites include asters, goldenrod, zinnia, marigolds and yarrow.
In addition to nectar, butterflies need water and minerals. Unlike birds, butterflies do not drink from open water. They get the moisture they need from moist areas at the edge of puddles. You can create butterfly puddles by burying a container of wet sand in a sunny spot out of the wind. Add a few twigs or rocks on top as perches.
Male butterflies require additional sodium during the mating season. You can supply it by occasionally adding a pinch of salt to your puddle.
You can download, free of charge, a booklet about butterflies in the Pacific Northwest that lists the host and nectar plants recommended for each species. "Create a Butterfly Garden" (EC 1549) is available online, or call 800-561-6719 to order a printed copy ($1.50 plus shipping and handling).