Butterfly shrubs

dr.liz(7 NJ)September 19, 2013

This is sort of a follow-up to my previous post, about butterfly shade plants. Apart from the ubiquitous Buddelia, what other shrubs have you found useful for nectar? As Misssherry said, spicebush and Wafer Ash are good host plants for specific butterflies.

I just planted a bottlebrush buckeye, which is supposed to be a butterfly magnet. It also favors shade. My understanding is that buttonbush is a great choice, too, although it is a "head in the sun, feet in the wet" sort of plant. I have lots of other shrubs planted, but I don't know if they are particularly attractive to butterflies. I have viburnums, Fothergilla, Clethra, serviceberry, azaleas, and some other things I can't recall at the moment.

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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Bottlebrush buckeye is indeed a butterfly magnet. I have one and was surprised at the TALL bloom spike it makes. This male tiger enjoyed it -

The problem with bottlebrush buckeye, like so many of our native plants, is that they only bloom once a year. Even lantana, which we think of as native, because it's naturalized, at least here in the South, is a native of tropical parts of America. The non-natives we plant for butterfly nectar, like lantana, butterfly bush, pentas, Salvia guaranitica, zinnias, Mexican sunflowers, porterweed, flame vine, etc., bloom repeatedly. But they need at least a few hours sunshine each day.

Buttonbush is great (mine grows in my septic tank drainage field for continuing moisture) but it makes one big bloom in May, with a sparse bloom in late summer. Viburnums are very attractive to not only butterflies, but bees and other insects, but it only blooms once. This black female tiger liked my V. dentatum, which came up naturally at the base of an oak tree -

Clethra is supposed to be a butterfly favorite, but it doesn't grow for me - maybe I'll try again sometime. I have a serviceberry which is one of the first to bloom in spring, but I've never seen a butterfly at the flowers. Azaleas are attractive to butterflies, but it's the same, once-a-year story. This palamedes swallowtail was just one of the many butterflies that used my 'Scarlet Ibis' hybrid native azalea -

Coneflowers have a pretty long bloom period for a native plant, but they need sunshine.

If you could stagger your shade-loving native plants for bloom period, you might be able to have something in bloom all year long.


    Bookmark   September 19, 2013 at 2:12PM
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dr.liz(7 NJ)

Beautiful photos, as always, Sherry. It is always a treat to see your pictures.

I will have to think about the bloom times. Once the plants get big enough to really get going, I can start to keep records. I agree that it is wise not to rely only on the shrubs, though. They are just another component of the mix. Really, the same issue applies to most perennial herbaceous plants, too. Some, like Rudbeckia, have a really long period of bloom. Others, just a few weeks. But I adore Baptisia, even if it doesn't last all summer.

For next year, even if I don't have the strength to do anything else, I will put in some good butterfly annuals. I'm thinking about Zinnia and Tithonia, at the very least. That way, there will always be something in bloom to fill in the gaps. But I do want native plants to be the backbone of my garden.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2013 at 8:15PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I have Monarda punctata, which is a native. It can overwinter, but I always replant it as an annual. It prefers sun, but does just fine in partly shady spots. And the insects swarm all over it when it blooms. I just collected my first few seeds today, but I'll have lots more in a few weeks. Let me know if you'd like some.


    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 9:39PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

We had a good thread on this late last year.

Here is a link that might be useful: Best Butterfly Shrubs No Buddleias Allowed

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 1:16AM
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