All butterflies start their lives as eggs which are laid on the leaves and stems of plants that the parents know the emerging caterpillars will like to eat.
The caterpillars gorge themselves for a few weeks and then turn into a chrysalis that may hang from the plant or develop just under the soil. In time, this splits open and the young butterfly takes to the skies.
Adult butterflies will overwinter in empty nest boxes, hollow logs or a corner of the greenhouse or shed. Make sure they are left undisturbed.
Flowers for butterflies
Avoid cultivated varieties with double flowers – the ruffled petals are practically impenetrable to a butterfly’s proboscis.
Flowers with a flat flowerhead are the easiest to land on and a firm stem will prevent the insects being flipped down to the ground as they land. A composite flower head made up of many smaller flowers will provide more food, more quickly than masses of small blooms that require many energy sapping flits between sips.
Make sure some food plants are sited in a sheltered spot. Near a south facing wall is ideal because as the wall warms up during the day it creates rising thermals that lift the butterfly effortlessly into the sky.
A good plant food for caterpillars is stinging nettles. Cut the nettles down in June to encourage new growth, leaving the cut stems on site for the caterpillars already feeding on them. Stinging nettle feeds butterflies which in turn produce caterpillars which feed birds.
Honesty is another good food plant. The orange tip caterpillar enjoys the leaves and butterflies are attracted to the purple flowers.
Butterfly Conservation may still be carrying out a survey about visiting butterflies and moths. Send for a pack to Garden Butterflies Count, PO Box 232, Melksham, Wilts, SN12 7SB or call 0870 043 3896.
- Bramble (Rubus) Many varieties but common blackberry best.
- Buddleia Justifiably called butterfly bush and often is smothered with butterflies during the summer. Has a delicious rich honey scent.
- Ceanothus Ideal for training against a warm south wall; it offers food, shelter and protection to many passing insects.
- Cherry Pie (Heliotropium) A popular plant with a sweet fruity smell.
- Golden Rod (Solidago) For a brilliant patch of yellow blooms in the midsummer border.
- Hebe Superb evergreen shrub that produces lovely flower spikes during midsummer.
- Honesty (Lunaria annua) A real must have.
- Ivy (Hedera) Provides welcome autumn flowers for late flyers.
- Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) This tall perennial has pinkish purple or white, nectar rich flowers from summer to early autumn.
- Laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) Flowering in late winter and early spring, this is an important early food plant and excellent evergreen shrub.
- Lavender A perennial favourite evergreen with aromatic foliage.
- Michaelmas (Aster nova belgii) Daisy flowers in a wide range of DAISY colours make this perennial a late summer star.
- Privet (Ligustrum) Ideal for a quick growing evergreen hedge.
- Stonecrop (Sedum spectabile) A splendid plant with thick fleshy leaves and flat flowerheads during late summer and autumn. Named varieties are less attractive to butterflies.
- Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) An early flowering biennial for a wide range of insects.
- Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) Has prickly leaves and spiky flowerheads. Popular with birds as well.
- Thrift (Thymus vulgaris) Butterflies relish this flower.
- Verbena Has tall graceful stems and vivid purple flowerheads.
- Yarrow Achillea millefolium) Flowers in early summer and comes in a wide range of colours.
- Watermint (Mentha aquatica)
- White campion (Silene alba)
- Sweet violet (Viola odorata)
- Small scabious (Scabious columbaria)
- Rock rose (Heliathemum nummularium)
- Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
- Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
- Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi)
- Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinnum)
- Lady’s Smock/Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis)
- Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus ulignosus)
- Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa)
- Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis)
- Devilsbit Scabious (Succusa patensis)
- Cottongrass (Eriophurum augustifolium)
- Cowslip (Primula veris)
Reproduced with permission of North West Parks Friends Forum