Sunday, October 12, 2008

Butterflies in Your Yard

Butterflies in Your Yard
Muse Article, Dec 2002
Photo of Woodland Skipper on Fireweed
A small but passionately interested group of butterfly lovers listened to James Miskelly (UVic. Masters student) speak about butterflies, the reasons for their decline and some ways we can help to protect and enhance their chances of survival.
From the flashy swallowtails to the modest ringlets, all butterflies need sun, even those described as woodland species, inhabit open clearings in forests. So the best locations to find butterflies are open, sunny areas with native vegetation and a little moisture in the form of a mud puddle nearby. Native vegetation is generally what butterflies have evolved to eat and most butterflies are very picky about which plants the young will consume, many relying on only one type of plant. The Anise swallowtail caterpillars feed on plants in the parsley family such as the native desert parsley or springold but they will also consume fennel and perhaps even carrots. On the other hand, the increasingly rare Moss’s elfin caterpillar feeds exclusively on our native stonecrop. However, most adult butterflies will sip nectar from almost any flower that produces significant quantities of nectar that they can access.

Following is a list of nectar plants you could cultivate to attract butterflies to your yard.
Spring: flowering currant, violets, cherry, crabapple, hawthorn, lilac
Spring-Summer: bleeding heart, columbine, lupine, coreopsis, phlox, dogwood
Summer: native roses, potentilla, sedum, fireweed, lavender, bee balm, butterfly bush, cow parsnip, coneflower, dogbane
Summer-Fall: asters, pearly everlasting, yarrow, goldenrod, sunflower, fleabane, clematis
Our ten most common native butterflies and their preferred host (caterpillar food) plants are:
Woodland Skipper Tall Grasses
Anise Swallowtail Parsley Family
Western Tiger Swallowtail Willows, Poplars, Fruit Trees
Pale Swallowtail Alder
Pine White Pines, Douglas Fir
Purplish Copper Docks, Sorrels
Western Spring Azure Oceanspray, Hardhack
Satyr Anglewing Stinging Nettle (in sun)
Red Admiral Stinging Nettle (in sun)
Lorquin’s Admiral Willows, Poplars, Fruit Trees.
Many butterflies overwinter as pupa in the ground and in leaf litter and therein lies the reason for the decline of one “species at risk”. The Propertius Duskywing, a study in subtle browns and grays with lightning fast aerial maneuvers, as a caterpillar, feeds solely on our Garry oaks and in the fall drops down into the leaf litter to overwinter. Remember those huge raked piles that you can take a running jump at and land safely buried in a cocoon of protective brown and crinkly leaves? Unfortunately for the caterpillars, those leaves, the mowers we run over them and the compost we make of them are their protective cover for the winter. So now, the few remaining Propertius Duskywings survive on oak studded open hilltops within park boundaries. Unfortunately, the females don’t realize that only the habitat within the parks is safe and many lay their eggs outside park borders.
If you are blessed with some Garry oak trees within your yard and you have some space you can donate to our flittering friends, save yourself some work; leave some natural areas, stop raking, relax and enjoy our flying jewels. They will reward you with delight and wonder in our natural world.
Butterfly Resources:
Butterflies of BC by C Guppy and J H Shepard
Butterflies through Binoculars -The West by J Glassberg
Butterflies and Moths of Southern Vancouver Island by J Tatum online at

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