Native Plants for Butterfly Gardening
You have probably read about planting flowers for butterflies, but much of the published information doesn’t help you provide the best habitat for our local butterflies. Nearly all plants that are promoted as butterfly plants focus on attracting adult butterflies to nectar. They don’t help you provide food for the entire life cycle of butterflies and aren’t necessarily suited for our local conditions or our local butterfly species.
Why Garden with Native Plants for Butterflies?
Native butterflies and native plants evolve together over thousands of years or more. A strong relationship develops between many butterfly caterpillars and their host (larval food) plants. Some butterfly species will use only a single native plant species (or closely-related group of species) for a host and won’t use plants brought in from other places. Also, native plants also benefit a variety of native insects and birds, and they are easy to care for because they are well-adapted to our climate. Please be aware that some non-native plants promoted for butterfly gardening can even be harmful to butterflies and the environment. Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii), in particular, is a nectar plant that is beginning to escape along our local streams and crowd out native willows — which are choice butterfly host plants! Ouch!!
Some Tips for Butterfly Gardening with Native Plants
1. KNOW YOUR SITE
Match plants to your site conditions. Plants each have their own needs for sun, water and soil type. Evaluate your yard or garden to determine which plants would do best. More information on propagation and requirements of native plants can be found in Bringing Nature Home (D. Tallamy), Real Gardens Grow Natives (E. Stark), Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest (A. R. Kruckeberg), Propagation of Pacific Northwest Native Plants (R. Rose, E. C. Chachulski, and D. L. Haase), and on the Native Plant Society of Oregon website. Be aware that these books cover plants from several ecoregions and do not have the critical *local* orientation for best native plant selection! If you decide to make this garden yours, then make sure you add picnic tables so you can enjoy being outside while watching the butterflies.
2. THINK LOCAL
Insist on plant stock propagated locally to preserve local genetics. Local variation in a plant species may not be obvious to you, but it might be to local pollinators. Importing plants from out of the local area can affect our local plants in the wild by hybridizing with them and causing loss of local unique colors and other features, and can change the flowering times of our local populations — and that could affect butterflies! Try to get seed or plant stock originating from within 20 miles of your garden site. If not, from farther is OK, but the bottom line should be that the plant’s origins must be from within the Willamette Valley. This is important so that local plants aren’t harmed by hybridizing with plants that evolved in other areas under different conditions, and that may differ genetically.
3. SHOP LOCAL
Most of the plants listed in this blog are available from Benton SWCD’s annual native plant sale. Some species may be found at local nurseries that carry native plants, but you may have to work a bit harder for others. More people asking for local native plants will give nurseries incentive to stock them. Some species can be found through your local chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon. Alternatively, professional botanists, like the Native Seed Network, find and collect seed, and professional growers grow them out.
4. PLANT LISTS TO GET YOU STARTED
Linked below are several tables to help you choose Willamette Valley native plants that support native butterflies.
Bloom Time Table of Pollinator Plants
Flowering Timetable of native plants for native insect pollinators in the Southern Willamette Valley.View Resource
Butterfly Gardening Handout
Native Plants for Butterfly Gardening, 4 pagesView Resource
Native WV Butterflies & Host Plants Table
Table by Bruce Newhouse of native Willamette Valley pollinators and their native host plants.View Resource
native nectar plants for butterflies in the Willamette ValleyView Resource
Plants and Butterflies
Table of native plants and the butterflies for which they are hostsView Resource
Top 20 Native Butterfly Host and Nectar Plants
Top 20 native butterfly host and nectar plantsView Resource
Willamette Valley Host Plants for Butterflies
Willamette Valley Host Plants for ButterfliesView Resource
About the Author
Bruce is a Willamette Valley native and a field ecologist specializing in plants and the animals that interact with them. He is particularly interested in the habits and needs of pollinators, although at other times it may be fungi or birds or other biota capturing his interest. He lives and gardens in Eugene with his ecologist wife, Peg and their tuxedo cat, Mr. Biggie. More info at salixassociates.com and brucen.zenfolio.com.