One of the fun things about gardening is enjoying all the visitors who drop by, especially lovely butterflies like this one. The neighbor who lives behind our back fence has told me more than once how she has noticed that many birds and butterflies came back to our area after I started my garden. While many different butterflies enjoy the herbs and flowers I’ve planted, I’m interested in planting native plants to encourage many more such visitors. Native plants are, of course, THE way to go if you want to attract and nourish local fauna as Doug Tellamy and others have demonstrated.
Here is a list I recently put together of plants for a butterfly garden composed of plants native to the Illinois area. This list is arranged in the approximate order of the plants’ bloom periods, plus a lovely shrub suggestion. I’ve included links to each plant’s description on the Illinois Wildflowers website because that has beautiful pictures as well as very detailed information. The Possibility Place Nursery is an excellent source for native plants, and they just might have a plant sale coming to a place near you.
Prairie Violet, 3-6″ (spring and perhaps fall, too) Nectar: small butterflies (inc. Spring Azure), and Duskywing skippers. Host: various Fritillary caterpillars.
Golden Alexanders, 1-2′ spring-early summer, 4 weeks and then has decorative seed heads) Host: caterpillars of Black Swallowtail
Cream Wild Indigo, 2′ (summer–May-June, 3 weeks) – or perhaps White Wild Indigo if you’d like something much taller (and a longer bloom period–summer, 4-6 weeks). Host: caterpillars of the butterflies Southern Dogface and Orange Sulfur, the skippers Hoary Edge and Wild Indigo Duskywing, and the moth Black-Spotted Prominent.
Butterfly Milkweed, 2-3′ (summer–June-Aug.). Nectar: various butterflies, including Swallowtails and Fritillaries. Host: Monarch butterfly caterpillars.
Hoary Vervain, 2-3′ (summer–June-Sep., 6 weeks). Host: Buckeye butterfly caterpillar.
Flax-Leaved Aster, 1-2′ (fall–July-Sept). Nectar: butterflies including Checkered White, Clouded Sulpher, Painted Lady, Comma, and Viceroy and skippers including Checkered Skipper. Host: caterpillars of Silvery Checkerspot butterfly, Pearl Crescent butterfly, and many moth species.
Prairie Blazing Star, 2-4′ (summer–July-Sep., 4 weeks) Nectar: Monarchs, Swallowtails, Painted Ladies, Sulfurs, Whites, and others. Host: caterpillars of the rare Schinia gloriosa (Glorious Flower Moth).
Wild Bergamot, 2-4′ (mid-summer–July-Sep., 4 weeks) Nectar: butterflies and skippers.
New England Aster, 2-5′ (fall–Aug.-Oct, 8 weeks) Nectar: butterflies, including Checkered White, Clouded Sulpher, Painted Lady, Comma, and Viceroy and skippers, including Checkered Skipper. Host: Pearl Crescent butterfly caterpillar
SHRUB: New Jersey Tea, 2-3′ (summer – 1 month), Nectar: some butterflies and moths. Host: Spring/Summer Azure butterfly, Mottled Duskywing skipper, and some moth caterpillars.