Rudbeckia and butterflies

jasonkay(z5 IL)September 13, 2005

I have gradually been converting the backyard to plantings of native perrennials and have noticed a gradual increase in the # of butterflies. However, I notice that they don't spend much time on the rudbeckias. They completely ignore R. Fulgida Goldsturm. I also have R. Triloba -- these get some visits but the butterflies only seem to stay on each flower a moment or two. I always heard that Rudbeckias were good for attracting butterflies. Are they overrated?

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I gardened in KY a few years, now in Southeast. Although it is a great native and garden perrenial, it doesn't attract and hold a lot of butterflies, I have seen some mysterious cats on it, probably moths. There are many better flowers...especially coneflowers that hold more butterflies. I do have one species, it's my first year, and I don't know the name...but it's a butterfly magnet...were it not for a tropical storm outside, I'd go and look at the tag for you.

A suggestion. As I have been studying backyard wildlife habitats (NWF), and they have published a good book, I decided upon a good compromise. It goes like this,

True native plant enthusiasts want to re-create the flora and fauna for their area, but econmicallly, it's not feasible. ..unless you own 20 acres. A backyard habitat concentrates the 4 requirements nature needs to be ubiquitous in amounts pleasing to the owner and beneficial to native species ever more deprived of their, shelter, water, and a place to raise young. Natives are needed for all of those, but also, a few harmless exotics..chosen carefully will do a wonderful job for the butterflies....not a purists view, but a practical one given what's available...I have to order many of my natives from ebay because I just can't find them at local centers....I also get a lot of good seeds there...a long time from purchase to pleasure....

And for all the flowers I have...the 3 that they can't resist? Zinnias, sages, and butterflybush.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2005 at 6:44PM
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jillmcm(z6 PA)

Rudbeckia is a BIRD magnet once it goes to seed, but no, it's not much of a nectar source. Some very popular native butterfly nectar plants in my garden include tall phlox, joe-pye-weed (Eupatorium spp.), ironweed (Vernonia), boltonia, and asters. They are always covered, and the swallowtails especially love the phlox. The smaller butterflies also love my Clematis virginiana vine. Another vine that we planted especially for caterpillars is Aristolochia durior - Dutchman's pipe, so named for the shape of the unusual flowers.

It's a great idea to find out what kinds of butterflies are common in your area ( may help, also the Xerces society) and then research what species those butterflies prefer. Although many sample widely when it comes to food sources, butterflies can be highly host specific when it comes to laying eggs. Monarchs prefer milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), for example, and we have lots of spicebush swallowtails thanks to a large and healthy population of Lindera benzoin (spice bush).

Have fun with it! Go native whenever you can, because although exotics like butterfly bush provide nectar for adults, they do not serve as habitat for caterpillars. You typically need natives for that.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2005 at 9:45PM
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Rudbeckia doesn't attract many butterflies. I have seen the occasional hairstreak on it, however, and I don't often see hairstreaks. Natives that do include monarda, ironweed, asters, goldenrods, and milkweeds. There is nothing that attracts migrating monarchs on warm fall days like NE aster. Don't forget host plants such as the common violet, host to fritillaries, and grasses, host to skippers. Many native shrubs are also host plants, including New Jersea tea, dogwoods, and Prunus (cherry, plum) species.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2005 at 11:55PM
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If you have a low spot that gets a little extra moisture, its hard to beat swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, for attracting all kinds of butterflies and bees. We have a vigorous plant, with maybe 20 stalks, at the corner of our house, where it gets some extra run-off from the roof. The insects love it.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2005 at 9:08AM
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jasonkay(z5 IL)

Thanks for the information. I will stick with some rudbeckias, but I won't expect them to bring in the butterflies. I am planning to plant some sweet joe pye weed, NE aster, purple milkweed, and NJ Tea this fall/next spring. Elaine, do you know which butterflies use NJ Tea as a host plant?

    Bookmark   September 14, 2005 at 1:03PM
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