Attract Butterflies: Midwest

Lynn Coulter
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zebra swallowtail butterfly

Butterflies bring movement and color to our gardens. Welcome these winged visitors to your Midwest garden with an island bed filled with plants for caterpillars and adults.

Begin by offering your butterflies some essentials:

  • A few flat stones or pavers, so they can rest and warm themselves in the sun.
  • A spot for “puddling” where your butterflies can drink water and extract minerals. Create a puddle by filling a shallow pan with coarse sand and putting it in your island bed. Keep the soil moist.
  • A pesticide-free zone. Avoid using chemicals anywhere butterflies visit.
  • Nectar plants for adult butterflies and foliage and other food plants for caterpillars. Use flowers that bloom in succession, and plant in masses of color to help the butterflies find them. Red, yellow, pink, purple and orange blossoms with short tubes or flattened flower heads are best.

Butterflies For midwest gardens

Eastern Black Swallowtail and Zebra Swallowtail– Swallowtails are beautiful butterflies with a distinctive “forked tail” on their hind wings. The Eastern Black Swallowtail, which has white, orange, and yellow patches on its black wings, is often seen on Queen Anne’s lace, dill, parsley, carrots and celery. Zebra Swallowtails have longer tails than other swallowtails; their wings are white with black stripes. They are easy to identify by the red and blue dots on their upper wings.

Monarchs – Its familiar orange and black wings make the Monarch one of our most popular butterflies. Females lay their eggs only on milkweed plants, and the caterpillars eat only milkweed–a good reason to leave a few ungroomed or weedy patches around your yard. Each fall, migrating monarchs journey to Mexico.

Meadow Fritillary, Great Fritillary and Variegated Fritillary – These tawny orange and brown butterflies have dots and dark markings on their upper wings. The Eastern Meadow “Frit” is a smaller species that frequents roadsides and damp meadows. They don’t usually fly very high, so look for them close to vegetation.

And many more – Look for a field guide to butterflies in your region to discover other fascinating and beautiful species.

A sampler of plants To Grow In your butterfly island bed:

Trees

Flowering dogwood, Kousa dogwood, Chaste tree, Basswood

Herbs

Dill, parsley, fennel, yarrow

flowers and other plants

Coneflower, lantana, coreopsis, blanketflower, catmint, aster, Black-eyed Susan, delphinium, penstemon, sunflower, day lily, milkweed, zinnia

Shrubs

Abelia, clethra, forsythia, spicebush, butterfly bush

Dress up your island butterfly bed with an ornamental butterfly house. It’s easy to build from a kit and makes a fun family project.

Image credit, Zebra swallowtail: SS/Brandon Alms

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