Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Herbs can add color and attract butterflies

Queen Butterfly on Butterfly Weed

It is going to warm up soon, and we will see lots of hummingbirds and butterflies going from plant to plant. So I thought that we might want to start thinking about what herbs to plant to attract these beautiful jewels of the air. The following article by Michael Womack, Horticulturist and Executive Director of the South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center, was published in the Caller-Times. Be sure to check out Herbs can add color and attract butterflies for lots of good information.

Herbs can add color and attract butterflies

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Herbs are wonderful plants for South Texas because many of them love full sun and hot temperatures. Although most people plant herbs for their own culinary use, many can be used to attract birds and butterflies.

Lavender plants will provide one of the best nectar sources for butterflies, including monarchs, whites, skippers and swallowtails. However, not all lavender is great for our area. Our summers are too hot for English lavender. Fernleaf lavender seems to do the best in our region, but Spanish lavender is also popular. The new minutolii lavender also shows promise here.

Mints attract butterflies including swallowtails, cabbage whites, gray hairstreaks, painted ladies, red admiral and monarchs. Just be aware that many mints are aggressive and may be considered slightly invasive. Mints will throw out runners and keep creeping into other plants if not kept in check. A good solution may be planting them in large pots or in contained beds.

Male Gulf Frittilary on Passionvine

Not only are butterflies looking for nectar plants, they also need larval food sources. That means that adult butterflies are looking for plants on which they can lay eggs that their babies (caterpillars) can eat. Some of the best herbs for this purpose are dill and fennel. Monarchs will devour these plants, so don't be upset if one disappears one day. Remember that those hungry little caterpillars grow up to be beautiful butterflies, so plant enough for them and you if this garden is supposed to meet the needs of your kitchen, too.

Monarch cat on Butterfly Weed

Salvias (sages) are good wildlife plants. The most popular for cooking are the garden sages (Salvia officinalis) but these tend to attract hummingbirds rather than butterflies. One of the best sages for both is pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) which attracts both hummers along with swallowtails and sulphurs. This attractive plant grows to 24 to 36 inches and provides masses of red tubular flowers which hummingbirds love.

Other herbs that I like for butterflies include oregano, thyme, hyssop and rosemary. Oregano and thyme are good, low-growing nectar plants for butterflies, blooming in mid-summer. In fact, thyme can be a great filler between flagstones in a walkway, providing a pretty groundcover and food for our fluttering friends.

Hyssop and rosemary are perennials, returning yearly to your garden. Hyssop (Agastache sp) can give height and beautiful pink or salmon flower spikes. I like the giant Mexican Hyssop variety "Acapulco." Rosemary will provide perennial greenery to your garden in the winter when other herbs are dead or struggling. It has small blue flowers throughout much of the year in South Texas.

When placing herbs in your garden, keep in mind diversity, mass and constancy.
• Plant many flower colors and shapes to attract a variety of butterfly species.
• Use masses of flowers; single plants simply won’t do in most cases. Butterflies may find your individual plant, but large groupings will yield more butterflies.
• Plant herbs that will provide a constant supply of flowers throughout the seasons. We often have butterflies until the first frost, and some have been sighted on warm winter days.

Giant Swallowtail on Gemini Rose

Photos by Linda Turner Collins

1 comment:

Celestial Elf said...

Great Post :D
thought you might like my machinima film the butterfly's tale~
Bright Blessings
elf ~