by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
Monarch Butterfly on a Zinnia
Watching butterflies, much like bird watching or observing wildflowers has become a popular and enjoyable pastime. With the diverse habitat of Nebraska, there are many species of butterflies to see each year.
Butterflies go through a four-stage developmental process known as metamorphosis (egg, larva or caterpillar, pupa or chrysalis, and adult). Depending on the species, the life cycle of a butterfly (one generation) may take anywhere from about one month to an entire year. Nebraska butterflies may have one, two, or more generations (broods) per year. Usually, the most common butterflies are multiple-brooded and provide a continuous array of color and activity to your butterfly garden throughout the season.
Although plant selection and placement are the most effective methods to attract butterflies, site selection for a butterfly garden is also important. Butterflies like sunny sites and areas sheltered from high winds. Warm, sheltered sites are most needed in the spring and fall. Provide rocks or bricks for pupation sites and for basking and warming in the sun.
Butterflies require food plants for their larval stages and nectar plants for the adult stage. Some larvae feed on specific host plants, while others will feed on a variety of plants. If possible, include both larval host plants and adult nectar plants in your butterfly garden.
Plants that attract butterflies are usually classified as those that are a food source, a nectar source, or both. Some of these plants will also provide protection from predators, offer shelter, a place to lay eggs, and a place to attach chrysalides. If you just want to attract a few more butterflies than you have seen in past years, simply plant more of the nectar flowers commonly visited by adults.
Plants with clusters of flowers are often better than plants with small, single flowers because it is easier for butterflies to land on clustered and/or larger flowers. Planting in mass (several plants of the same kind) will usually attract more butterflies, as there is more nectar available to them at a single stop. Plants that attract butterflies may also attract bees and wasps. Most bees and wasps, busy with their pollen and nectar collecting tasks, are not likely to sting if left undisturbed.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office