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Become a butterfly gardener

The pale swallowtail. Photo Beverley Saunders

The reported low numbers of Monarch butterflies in their wintering grounds in Mexico and California this year is dismal. This beautiful and well-recognized butterfly is dwindling in numbers.

These declines can be attributed to specific factors which are loss of habitat, use of herbicides in crops and along roadsides, drought and climate change.

Obviously the lovely Monarch and all butterflies can use our help. While the Monarch is rare on the Coast, we have a lot of other butterflies (and in more abundance) here. “Monarchs are present in the dry Southern Interior as a breeder with occasional records on Vancouver Island and the Lower Fraser Valley,” says Rand Rudland of Halfmoon Bay, who closely watches our Coastal butterflies. According to Rudland, we have around 30 common species here. “The Mourning Cloak is the first to appear,” says Rudland. Habitat loss is one reason many butterfly populations are declining and starting a butterfly garden at home or in the community can help.

According to the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility, there are four key requirements to entice and keep butterflies in your garden: nectar sources, larval food plants, sunshine, and shelter.

When creating a butterfly garden, supply host plants to provide a site for the butterflies to lay eggs and as a food source for the emerging caterpillar. Be prepared for heavy munching on the host plants! It is best to mix host and nectar plants, or place them right next to each other. The butterflies will want to lay their eggs close to the plants that their young will feed on. Of course, insecticides must never be used on or near a butterfly garden. These chemicals will kill them.

Excellent host plants include: milkweed, hollyhock, fennel, parsley, clovers, snapdragons, willow and wild cherry. Lilac bushes, blueberry bushes, privets, sumacs, butterfly weed, chrysanthemums, daises, purple coneflower, bergamots, black-eyed Susan, dogbane, goldenrods and even purple ageratum are all flowers/shrubs that will attract butterflies. These flowers are all high in nectar content. (Hybrid garden plants with almost no nectar, such as roses, lilies, and geraniums, are of little use in attracting butterflies.) Most of these plants or seeds can be found at garden centres on the coast. Milkweed seeds can be ordered from Salt Spring Seeds. recommends placing a large butterfly bush in a corner and surrounding it with a variety of smaller plants and flowers including milkweed. This will attract more than one type of butterfly.

By planting a butterfly garden, you will help to save the butterflies and have a wonderful place in your yard to enjoy all season long.

Beverley Saunders

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