One of my former university lecturers was truly obsessed with Lepidoptera (the family butterflies and moths belong) and with the range of colours, shapes and sizes of the group it is easy to see why! Despite their fragile delicate appearance Butterfly species first appeared around 40-50 million years ago! Unfortunately in modern times butterfly species are under strain, with many species becoming less common, locally extinct, or ultimately disappearing completely! The main culprit is habitat loss, modern agricultural methods mean land is being more intensively used or given over to urbanisation for example. Another factor thought to be effecting butterfly numbers is climate change, although beneficial for some species, these changes have resulted in some species range constricting or becoming completely unsuitable in some cases.
So what can we do to help these beautiful species in their fight for survival? The answer could be right outside your back door! Our gardens can act as important stepping stones between nature reserves and natural areas of butterfly friendly habitats, as well as important habitats in their own right. Encouraging these butterflies can be as simple as planting suitable plants so Butterflies can visit the flowers to obtain the nectar, which they then suck up with their long tongue or proboscis.
Plants such as these will help:
Alyssum (Aurina saxatilis)
Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii) (See what they did with the name there?)
Heather (Calluna vulgaris)
Lavender (Lavandula species)
Marigold (Tagetes erecta)
Marjoram (Origanum vulgare)
Scabious (Knautia arvensis)
All these nectar providing plants, will not only look good with a bit of luck, but will also help other insect species such as bees and moths. Planting lots of different plant species will ensure you attract a wide range of butterfly types and mean food is available over a longer flowering period. You can also encourage some species to stay and breed by providing overwintering butterfly and caterpillar shelters (e.g. leaving log piles or dense vegetation) and food plants such as Holly and Ivy for example. Although watch out for your vegetable patch when the caterpillars hungrily emerge! Allowing an area of your garden to go “wild” with native wildflowers and grasses will also provide an ideal habitat for them to breed.
So let’s all try and do our bit to encourage and help the fragile but tenacious Butterfly in our own back gardens!