Planting Contentment

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1996

Last revision: Oct. 21, 2010

(2 inch), wings awash in oranges, browns and white, also visit nettles. But the widely distributed ladies are often called thistle butterflies because they prefer that flower's nectar.

Swarms of monarchs (2.5-3.5 inches) give milkweeds (Asclepias) the name butterfly weed. Nightshades also attract monarchs. Saving some of the white and lavender members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae) presents anything but a visual hardship.

Cone flowers (Echinacea spp.) evoke mixed reactions from gardeners. Many species of butterflies react enthusiastically, however. They stop for nectar and exploit a large surface (flower head) for what can be a lengthy (photographer's time) respite.


Sowing annuals invites butterflies. Annuals make low-cost alternatives to perennials like butterfly bush (Buddleia), which in any case is too limited in its flowering time to merit space in a small area. Water (and occasionally feed) annuals early in the morning to encourage nectar flow; the midday reward is a steady stream of butterflies. Because blossoms of annuals stretch from June through September, they are reliable seducers of butterflies.

Zinnias fit in nicely among perennials. Keeping slugs from nibbling them in the seedling stage is the only challenge. The big colorful flower heads bring the familiar skippers, painted ladies, monarchs, tiger swallowtails, and they coax the large mourning cloaks (2.5-3.5 inches) from woodlands. Yellow wing edges underlain by a row of bluish purple markings make the otherwise dull brown wings of the mourning cloak remarkable and unmistakable.

Nasturtiums bring little gems, the blues (0.5 inch), a k a azures, which say it all with their name. Topside, wings of blues hold just a hint of red. Folded, wings show their surprising black-spotted, white undersides. Asters attract crescents (1 inch), butterflies named for the shape of their orange and black wing markings, which resemble the mottling in a cake.

The biennial blazing stars (Liatris spp.) draw woodland butterflies. For example, buckeyes (2.5 inch) are regulars on the profuse lavender flowers. Erratic flyers who prefer to alight for a good, long drink of nectar, buckeyes have two eyespots - one large and one quite small - on each of their wings.

Perennials take a few years to establish themselves. But once anchored, they spread. Chat about butterfly likes and dislikes with neighbors and while talking, line up some clumps of perennials to be split for transplanting in March.

Many gardeners with thriving perennials are eagerly searching for a friendly home for divided plants, given the only alternative: the compost heap. Trading

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