Butterfly Gardens

These comments copyright 2000 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated June 2, 2000

Why butterfly gardens? Aside from the beauty, peacefulness and serenity they create, you mean? In brief: survival of most species on this planet - and that includes humans.

While talking with my friend Mitch Thomashow, an expert in environmental science, I asked him, "What's the greatest threat to the ecology today, and what can we do - I mean really do, in a hands-on sense - to help prevent it?"

His answers: "Many pollinators are dangerously near extinction. This is due to a combination of factors, but mostly loss of habitat and overuse of pesticides. Without pollinators, most of the plants we - and most other species - need to survive will die out. What can you do about it? Probably the best thing to do is to make a butterfly garden: give pollinators a habitat."

So, why not? You can do it in a city, suburb, town, farm, etc. Yes, it takes a little time and money, but not that much - and it's very rewarding. I now tour butterfly gardens on my trips, paying the entrance fee to encourage their development and growth. And they're beautiful! Very peaceful to be in, and far more entertaining than television.

So give it a try - why not save the planet?

How Do I Start?

There are really only three factors to consider:

  1. What types of butterflies normally live in your geographic area?
  2. What types of flowering plants do those adult butterflies like? (They live on nectar.)
  3. What types of host plants do the caterpillars need to eat? (Caterpillars are more specific in their dietary needs.)
The answers to those three questions will vary from region to region, of course. Monarch butterfly caterpillars, for example, eat only milkweed, while Monarch adults enjoy nectar from many different plants (and pollinate them as they do so). However, Fritillary caterpillars only eat violets, though lots of types of caterpillars seem to like willow. So the answers aren't as simple as me listing them here, but fortunately there are many resources - printed, online, and face-to-face - which will answer those questions and give you lots of advice on how to proceed.

Here are some resources I've assembled to help you get started - I'm sure you can find many more with minimal effort and a good search engine. Check back - I hope to be doing more with this page later.


Because I don't want to recommend any one bookstore, any link on a book is to a non-profit organization, while a link on a publisher is to the publisher's website for that particular book. You might be able to find them cheaper at your favorite bookstore.

These are roughly in the order I recommend them.

Web Sites

Seed and Other Catalogs

Note: I do not necessarily endorse any company listed here - these are simply some that have a special page devoted to plants specifically for a butterfly garden.

Other Resources

Check your local
  • Botanical Gardens,
  • Natural Science Centers,
  • Universities (Plant Science, Horticulture, Botany, or Zoology Departments),
  • Nurseries.
Many of these already have all the information you need, often with a friendly smile. In fact, you may even have a local Butterfly Garden - ask at any of the places listed above how to find the nearest one!

Other Pollinators

You can also encourage:
  • bees
  • hummingbirds
  • certain types of moths, beetles, and flies
  • other pollinators, which include many other insects and birds as well as some mammals and lizards
Search the web for any of these that interest you. I chose butterflies because they're the one insect most people like, and they pollinate more types of plants than hummingbirds. But we need other pollinators, too, not just butterflies!

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