Gardening for Butterflies

Butterflies not only brighten our gardens with movement and colour but also, along with moths, provide vital food supplies for other species especially birds and bats. We can help by providing nectar for adults and in some cases food plants for the larvae. To see notes from a Froyle garden click on the link ‘On the wild side, A flutter-by summer’.

NECTAR PLANTS (a selection of garden and wild flowers)- Primrose, Chionodoxa, Pussy Willow, Bluebell, Aubrietia, Hyacinth, Cuckoo Flower, Forget-me-not, Perennial Wallflower – Bowles Mauve, Honesty, Sweet Rocket – Hesperis matronalis,  Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Lavender,  Marjoram, Bramble, Mint, Hyssop, Perennial Pea – Lathyrus latifolius, Hebe, Buddleia, Verbena bonariensis, Field Scabious , Hemp Agrimony, Teasel, Phlox, Ice plant- Sedum spectabile, Cone Flower, Inula hookeri, Michaelmas Daisy.  Annuals include Candytuft, Tithonia, and Single dahlias.   Flowering Ivy is an important late season nectar source for many insects including the Red Admiral.  It’s a larval food plant of the Holly Blue butterfly and the Brimstone will hibernate in it.  Birds find shelter, build nests amongst it and eat the berries in winter. The juice from rotting windfall fruit is often a magnet for Comma and Red Admiral.

Aim to provide a continuous source of nectar from early spring to late autumn. Butterflies seek out warmth so try and position your nectar plants in sunny areas sheltered from the wind. Many of the plants will also attract other invertebrates including Moths, Honey Bees, Bumble Bees, Solitary Bees and Hoverflies.

Red Admiral on Tithonia

LARVAL FOOD PLANTS – The adult female must search for the right food plants to lay her eggs. The Peacock seeks out Nettle, the only plant her caterpillars (larva) will eat. Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Red Admiral are the other nettle feeders. Cabbage Whites, can be tempted away from our brassicas by planting Nasturtiums. The Holly Blue lays on Holly in the spring and Ivy in the autumn and the Orange tip on Sweet Rocket, Honesty, Ladies Smock and Garlic Mustard –Brimstone larvae will only eat Buckthorn or Alder Buckthorn. Again these plants need to be in sunny sheltered areas and of course chemicals should be avoided.

SPECIES TO LOOK OUT FOR IN OUR GARDENS – Brimstone, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Red Admiral, are the first species on the wing in spring having hibernated as adults.  By May Holly Blue, Green-veined White, Orange Tip, Small Copper, Speckled Wood, Large and Small White (collectively known as Cabbage Whites) will be flying and perhaps the migrant Painted Lady. Others to watch for during the year are Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Large and Small Skipper, Gatekeeper and Ringlet. These are the most likely species to turn up in our Froyle gardens but others could make an appearance.  A list of the 35 species recorded in the Parish can be seen here.

BRITISH BUTTERFLIES – There are 59 species of butterfly found in Britain, 46 in Hampshire, most require exacting habitat conditions to exist which includes an abundance of the larval food plant. These food plants differ from species to species and comprise specific native flowers, grasses trees and shrubs. Nectar is also required for the adults giving them vital energy to fly and breed.  Some of the richest habitats are traditionally managed woodlands, chalk downlands, meadows and heathlands but vast areas have been lost in the past 60 years with agricultural intensification and habitat destruction taking their toll. Consequently invertebrates dependant on these plant communities are seeing worrying declines which include three quarters of UK butterfly species. Some butterflies are less particular in their requirements – hedgerows, copses, flowery field margins, track and roadside verges all play an important role in their survival but wild flowers have declined here too. For more information see Butterfly Conservation.

Sue Clark