The Q&A Archives: butterfly garden

Question: What kind of plants are best for a butterfly garden in Tempe Az; and what are your suggestions for getting started?

Answer: Butterflies prefer ray or disc-shaped flowers; something large on which to land. There's a terrific butterfly garden at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Some of the plants they have include:
Fern Acacia (Acacia angustissima) not only attracts butterflies, but also is larval plant food for the Yellow Mexican Sulfur.

Butterfly Mist or Butterfly Blue(TM) (Ageratum corymbs) has a blue flower and tasty nectar. It attracts male Queens. (An alkaloid in the flower is ingested and used as an aphrodisiac to attract females).

Bee Brush (Aloysius gratissima) is scrappy in appearance, but has a remarkable fragrance. Gray Hairstreaks and Queens are attracted to this plant.

Pineleaf Milkweed (Asclepias linaria) is a major food source for caterpillars of Queen and Monarch butterflies. They eat the leaves and flowers of A. linaria, as well as those of Desert Milkweed (A. subulata) and Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa).

Sweet Bush (Bebbia juncea) is an extremely drought-tolerant native plant that attracts all sizes of butterflies, including Checkered Skippers.

Mallow (Malva) is also a larval food plant for the Checkered Skipper, as is Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), a native grass. Orange Skippers eat other grasses, such as Bamboo Muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa).

Red Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) attracts Swallowtails, Sulfurs and some Skippers.

Pipevine (Aristolochia microphylla) is a larval plant food for Swallowtails, one of the largest butterflies.

Desert Hackberry (Celtis pallida) is a native larval food plant that can attract both the Snouts and Empress Leilias. Empress Leilias feed on sap and rotting fruit in preference to flowers.

Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus) is an excellent nectar bush. Reakirt's Blues will often be observed swarming this bush in the fall.

Black Dalea (Dalea frutescens) attracts Southern Dogface caterpillars.

Golden Dyssodia (Dyssodia pentachaeta), a native, provides food and nectar for the Dainty Sulfur butterfly and caterpillar.

Spreading Fleabane (Erigeron divergens), a member of the sunflower family, may bring Buckeyes to your yard. You can also try other sunflower family members, such as Cosmos and Mountain Marigold.

Kidneywood (Eysenhardtia orthocarpa) has a white, fragrant flower that attracts butterflies, bees, wasps, and flies. Butterflies most likely to be seen will be Hairstreaks and Blues. Kidneywood provides larval food for the Marine Blue, which is tended by ants.

Lantana (Lantana camara) draws the Giant Swallowtail and Fiery Skipper. Swallowtail caterpillars eat cultivated citrus, and Fiery Skippers eat Bermuda grass. It is not necessary to plant citrus to attract the Swallowtail. Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis) attracts all types of butterflies, and is a favorite of the Painted Lady.

Wolfberry (Lycium berlandieri) has a long blooming period, and its nectar attracts both bees and butterflies, including the Funereal Duskywing, a Skipper.

Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) is a groundcover. It has a tiny pale lilac flower that attracts Blues, Hairstreaks and Skippers. It is also food for the Refh Crescent. Cultivation of this plant may help re-establish the Phaon Crescent.

Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina) leaves are eaten by Leda Hairstreaks, and provide attractive shade for your garden.

Desert Senna (Senna covesii) serves as larval plant food for the Sleepy Orange and the Cloudless. It is also a native plant.

Verbena (Verbena gooddingii) is a native with colorful blooms. It draws many types of butterflies, American Lady among them.

Best wishes with your new butterfly garden!

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