Planting Contentment

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 21, 2010

byproduct of making the environment just a bit healthier.

How easy is it?

Missouri boasts nearly 200 species of butterflies, a quarter of those that reside in the United States. A few tokens of encouragement may attract many of them to human neighborhoods. Of course, the butterflies will not all arrive at one time. But the best days can be good indeed. For example, fluttering in our yard at 11 a.m. one April day were a sulphur, an admiral, a tiger swallowtail and a monarch.

Butterfly needs are not unlike human ones. They seek nourishment, water, basking sites and shelter.

Planting to attract butterflies need not be expensive or exhausting. Saving, sowing, sharing and (even) slacking do the trick. Those four activities - or bit of inactivity, in the case of slacking - attract throngs of butterflies to our one-quarter acre of Missouri. Some of our most successful butterfly baits (plants) - and the butterflies they tempt - are highlighted here.

The general principles for any butterfly gardener are these:

  • Adult butterflies stop at flowers to lay eggs and take nectar.
  • Pungent and sweet fragrances attract them; so do purple, red, orange, yellow and pink blossoms.
  • Nectar sustains adults.
  • Immature butterflies (caterpillars) consume plants, and the caterpillars have their favorite host plants.


Saving wildflowers is a good way to get started. Orange and yellow clouded sulphurs (1.5-3 inches, across wings) - named for the black on their wings - like white clover. Resist pulling yellow-blossomed, sensitive-leaved sennas (Cassia) and attract cloudless and orange-barred sulphurs.

Nightshades and fleabanes bring clouded and plain winged whites (1.4-3 inches). Pinkweed (Polygonium) reaches out to coppers (1 inch). Coppers sparkle when the sun bounces off the mixed reds, silvers and blues in their wings.

Thistle and shepherd's purse attract wood nymphs (2-3 inches), brown winged butterflies that match the bark of trees where they rest. Spots on the wings of some wood nymphs resemble eyes (eyespots) and threaten birds looking for a tasty meal. Violets summon fritillaries (3-4 inches) whose wing patterns of orange and red appear etched from a thick black cover of crayon.

The common red-banded hairstreak (1 inch) favors mallows. Gray wings trimmed with red bands account for the butterfly's name. Many a bird - and novice butterfly watcher - has mistaken the moving antennalike extensions of the hind wings for a head.

Question mark caterpillars feed on nettles, so the drab, brown and orange ragged-winged adults (2-3 inches) visit to lay eggs. Related painted ladies

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