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Green Scene: Right Habitat Is Key to Attracting Butterflies

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By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, August 22, 2009

About 670 species of butterflies live in the United States and Canada, visiting hundreds of thousands of flowers, drinking nectar and pollinating plants in their short lives.

They bring excitement to gardens, floating and dipping their way through the plants. The myths about them are positive, such as the Native American legend that they are messengers of the Great Spirit and that wishes whispered to them will come true.

To attract these messengers, put your garden in a sunny area. Install host plants, which caterpillars eat and butterflies lay their eggs on. Plant nectar-producing flowers that attract butterflies in your area. Single flowers, which have just one row of petals, are more accessible to butterflies than doubles. Include shallow puddles for drinking and small flat rocks so they can bask in the sun. Don't use pesticides in or near a butterfly garden.

Butterflies are harmless, and only one of their larvae -- caterpillars -- can be considered pests. Almost all butterflies' feeding is harmless to plants. One exception is the cabbage butterflies, which lay eggs on young cabbage plants. Larvae feed on the heads as they form.

There are many flowers from which butterflies drink nectar, and there are several host plants on which butterflies hatch, feed and then pupate from eggs to caterpillars to adulthood. Get a book or search the Internet to learn which butterflies frequent your area and the flowers and host plants they prefer.

The first types of plant everyone wants are those that flower. However, without caterpillars' habitats, you won't have butterflies. Plant their favorite flowers, supply puddles for water and small flat rocks for sunning.

These nectar-producing flowers will keep butterflies occupied all summer:

-- Black-eyed Susan, Maryland's state flower, has golden yellow blooms that feed butterflies throughout the summer.

-- Butterfly weed or milkweed (Aesclepias) belongs in a natural, moist setting.


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