• Karla Benzl MD

Butterfly Gardens and Kids

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

If you have the space, why not create a butterfly garden? They are great for kids! Butterfly gardens build empathy, patience, and an understanding of nature. Not to mention- you can help support the population of vulnerable butterflies such as the Monarch. Witnessing the lifecycle of the butterfly is a great hands-on lesson in biology. The lifecycle starts when a wild butterfly lays her eggs on a host plant. The caterpillars are delicate and don’t always make it, thus building empathy and concern for their habitat. Waiting for a butterfly to eclose (emerge) from the chrysalis is a lesson in patience. We have had moments of patiently waiting for a butterfly to emerge from the chrysalis. Every butterfly that makes it to the adult stage is truly awe inspiring and special. They can be handled delicately before flying away- an amazing experience for the kids.

How does one attract butterflies to the garden? Provide host plants for butterflies to lay eggs. Also, plant flowers that provide nectar for adult butterflies. These will attract wild butterflies to your yard. Make sure to avoid pesticides.

Flowers that generally attract adult butterflies include: Echinacea purpurae (Coneflower), Lantana, Butterfly Bush (Buddleia), Zinnia, Salvia varieties, Sunflowers, Scabiosa columbaria (Butterfly Blue), Aster, Verbena. Ask your local nursery or gardener for guidance on local varieties.

Here are suggested host plants by species:

The Monarch Butterfly: Plant milkweed of any variety. Search for milkweed that is native to your area, as that is best for the butterflies and your yard. The caterpillars of the Monarch are adorable. They are stripped green, white, and yellow. Once the egg hatches, the caterpillar will eat milkweed and grow much larger. After about 2 weeks, the caterpillar will hang upside down and turn into a chrysalis. It takes about 10-14 days to emerge as a butterfly. Did you know that Monarch butterflies migrate across the US and Canada to spend the winter in central Mexico? Turns out Day of The Dead correlates with the arrival of massive amounts of migrating Monarchs.

See this chart to find native milkweed varieties for your area: https://monarchjointventure.org/images/uploads/documents/MilkweedFactSheetFINAL.pdf.

The Swallowtail Butterfly: There are many varieties of the swallowtail butterfly. The

Black Swallowtail Butterfly is found throughout North America. A female swallowtail will lay her eggs on fennel, dill, parsley, carrot tops, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Rue. The

Black Swallowtail Butterfly has two generations a year. The first generation hatches between late April and June after “overwintering” (staying in a chrysalis over the winter). The second generation emerges in late summer and spends a shorter time in a chrysalis (9-11 days).

Gulf Fritillary- Varieties of Passion Vine make host plants for the Gulf Fritillary. These

caterpillars are dark orange with black spines. These butterflies are common to the Southern part of the US. The caterpillars form chrysalides in about 2-3 weeks, and emerge as butterflies after 5-10 days.

Make sure to have a source of water for butterflies, you can add rocks to a bird bath so water is shallow. Add rocks to the garden- butterflies will land on rocks to rest. Provide shade.

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