Monarch Butterfly newly emerged from Chrysalis, Danaus Plexppus, on milkweed with soft jewel tones background

Writer’s Note: Thanks to the readers who caught the error in the last Blooming Issues article on hummingbirds. The correct feeding solution is 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. The figures had been mistakenly transposed.

Nature has always fascinated me in its complexity, diversity and beauty. My interest has led to a lifetime of outdoor discovery and exploration into the worlds of plants, flowers, birds and butterflies. The sheer number of these uniquely created organisms is mind boggling. Did you know there are 17,500 species of butterflies in the world and that Georgia is home to over 160 species? Coastal home gardens, if designed with butterflies in mind, can easily attract at least 30 of those 160 species during the warm growing season. Since butterflies are not particularly choosy about the nectar they feed upon, any garden that contains flowering annuals and perennials will see a few visiting butterflies. But, to ensure future generations of butterflies, a garden should be located near (or provide) at least one native plant species necessary for butterfly reproduction.

Butterflies have four life stages:

• Egg, laid on a plant by adult female in spring, summer, or fall, depending on species

• Larva (caterpillar) hatches from the egg and eats the leaves and stems of the plant upon which eggs were laid, increasing up to 100 times its original size and shedding its skin 4-5 times in the process.

• Pupa (chrysalis) is the stage after fully grown caterpillar stops eating. Pupae can be found suspended under a branch or among leaves or even buried underground. Depending on species, the pupa stage may last a few weeks to a full two years.

• An adult butterfly emerges from the pupa, unfurls its wings and flies. Some species feed on nectar from flowers for energy; some species don’t require any energy source. Adult males and females mate. Females then fly from place to place depositing eggs on specifically chosen plants that will become the food source for hatching caterpillars. Adults usually live just a few weeks but some species will hibernate during winter months extending their life cycle to several months.

What should you consider when designing a butterfly garden? First would be the location. Butterflies, being cold-blooded, prefer a garden that receives 5-6 hours of sunlight, particularly in the morning. Nearby trees and shrubs will provide them protection from windy conditions and predators as well as a place to roost during the night. Second would be the species of plants. The list of flowering annuals and perennials for our Coastal Zone 9a that produce nectar and attract butterflies includes annuals perennials such as Butterfly Weed (Aesclepias tuberosa), Yellow Cosmos (C. sulphureus), Heliotrope, Hibiscus, Penta, Petunia, Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis), Sunflower, Swamp Milkweed, Tithonia and Zinnia, as well as perennials such as Agapanthus, Aster, Azalea, Black-Eyed Sustem, Butterfly Bush, Coreopsis, Gaillardia, Goldenrod (Solidago sp.), Joe Pye Weed, Lantana, Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea), Red Clover, Salvia, Sedum and Yarrow. Our garden contains both annuals and perennials and we see a good number of butterflies.

Third, butterflies also require water, particularly in hot summer months and between the hottest hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Butterflies don’t land on water to drink. Instead, they sip liquid from muddy soil, a behavior known as “puddling.” Muddy soil provides salts and other minerals that male butterflies need to produce pheromones to attract females. During mating, these minerals are passed on to the female to support the egg-laying process. It’s easy to create a simple puddling dish by taking a pie tin and adding a moistened mixture of landscape sand and compost. Place in a sunny spot of the garden near the flowers. Be sure to keep it moist. Another source of nutrient-rich liquid (besides nectar) comes from decaying fermenting fruit (banana, melon, apple). Simply place the rotting fruit in a shallow dish. Fermentation can be enhanced with a small addition of beer or wine and a dash of salt. One side note: Beware of raccoons or other mammals that may visit for the fruit. Fourth, but no less important, maintain a garden that is pesticide-free. Butterflies are not tolerant of pesticides.

If you are successful in your endeavors, you will see butterflies. I have spotted the following over the years. I am no means an expert. Most likely, many of you are better at seeing our splendiferous butterflies and can add to this list! I have included one native host plant for each in parenthesis. These host plants can be found growing in our coastal region.

• Cabbage White (Cabbage)

• Cloudless Sulphur (Wild Senna)

• Common Buckeye (Wild Petunia)

• Giant Swallowtail (Hercules Club)

• Gulf Fritillary (Passionflower)

• Little Yellow (Partridge Pea)

• Long-Tailed Skipper (American Wisteria)

• Monarch (Milkweed)

• Mourning Cloak (Black Willow)

• Painted Lady (Thistle)

• Palamedes Swallowtail (Red Bay)

• Pipevine Swallowtail (Pipevine)

• Silver-Spotted Skipper (False Indigo Bush)

• Red Spotted Purple (Wild Cherry)

• Spicebush Swallowtail (Spicebush)

• Viceroy (Black Willow)

• Zebra Swallowtail (Pawpaw Tree)