“Metamorphosis has always been the greatest symbol of change for poets and artists. Imagine that you could be a caterpillar one moment and a butterfly the next.”
– Louie Schwartzberg
Butterflies are truly a magical sight in the garden, beautiful colourful beings, fluttering about gently from plant to plant, drinking nectar, pollinating our plants, and bringing joy to us without even knowing it!
Australia is home to 416 species of butterflies and over 22,000 moths and they come in a wide variety of shapes, colours and sizes. The bulk of our Australian butterflies are confined to the tropics, but every state and territory has their own range of butterfly and moth species.
Butterflies are generally seen in the daytime and moths are nocturnal so are seen mostly at night and we welcome all the flying visitors as well as the caterpillars that come before them! Butterfly gardening plays an important role in increasing backyard diversity and while we help them during their life cycle, they help us by pollinating a wide range of plants providing a very important link in the food chain.
Many butterflies are reducing in numbers, some on the verge of extinction, mainly due to habitat loss and lack of food plants so if we can all do our part by adding some butterfly friendly plants, we can make a difference and help increase butterfly numbers.
If you want butterflies and/or moths to visit your garden, it is good to plan ahead and know a few basic things before you start, this way you will have everything in place and the butterflies will come!
Find out what butterflies are native to your area and focus on attracting a few of those to your butterfly haven
To attract and keep butterflies in your garden the right food and shelter needs to be provided to them for their whole life cycle, some caterpillars and butterflies can be very fussy and/or have specific dietary requirements so the correct plants need to be chosen
o Grow host plants for them to lay their eggs on and for the caterpillars to feed from once they hatch
o Grow nectar producing plants for the adult butterflies to feed from
Once garden design has been put into motion, keep a record of the caterpillars and butterflies that visit the garden, as well as what plants they visit
Butterfly Life Cycle
Egg - The adult butterfly lays eggs on the leaves (usually the undersides), depending on the species they lay clusters or singular eggs - these can be tiny or a little larger in colours of green, yellow, orange, or white and are usually rounded or oval in shape.
Caterpillar - When the egg hatches the butterfly larvae or caterpillar emerges and they are hungry little critters! They stay in this form while feeding on the host plant leaves until it’s time to move into their next life cycle.
Pupa - The caterpillar will start by hanging itself upside down on a leaf and then stay in the cocoon they create before they pupate. The caterpillar secretes silk, and this is what the caterpillar uses to make its cocoon with. This is the magical part of their metamorphosis where the main transformation happens! Once the transformation is complete, an adult butterfly emerges from the cocoon, unfurling their beautiful wings - be sure to let the butterfly hatch on its own, this is important!
Adult butterfly - The adult butterfly then will be ready to court, mate and lay eggs completing the life cycle, and on it goes for us to watch all over again!
Butterflies like the early morning sun and use this to warm themselves and retreat to cooler, shadier spots in the heat of the day
o A spot that is fairly sheltered and protected from winds but gets a fair bit of sun is ideal
o Be sure to provide access to sunlight by not overplanting
Provide ample moisture for the butterflies
o Dig a few small shallow holes and fill with water this creates mud puddles that butterflies will land on, sometimes en masse, and suck the water out of the soil
o Birdbaths can also be useful
Add some flattish rocks around the garden to give the butterflies a place to land on and sun themselves and they will also use these to rest between feeding and laying their eggs
Avoid using chemicals in the garden - this includes pesticides as well as herbicides
Choose flowers that are blue, pink, purple, orange, red and yellow - butterflies are attracted to these colours
Deter butterfly eating predators from your garden
Choosing Host Plants for Caterpillars
Adult caterpillars have a fantastic sense of smell and can locate their favourite plants to lay their eggs on, they can do this from many kilometres away
Caterpillars have voracious appetites and can eat all the edible parts of their preferred food plants. Our native butterflies are happier with some of the locally native species, so it is great to use them rather than exotics to entice them
Plant a good mix of host food plants so there is always something for the caterpillars to munch on
Butterflies like to fly along paths and waterways so create clear spaces so they can meander through the garden to find the perfect host plant for them to lay their eggs on
Choose flat topped flowers, rather than frilly doubles as these make good resting places for the butterflies to rest on and lay eggs
Some good choices for host plants include
Choosing Nectar Producing Plants for Butterflies
Find out what plants the butterflies that you are wanting to attract would prefer to feed on
Plants of different heights will attract different types of butterflies
Butterflies generally like plants with small tubular flowers, also don’t forget those that form racemes or panicles that are made up of lots of small flowers, butterflies also love clover and herb species
Beds of colourful flowers planted en masse keep the butterflies moving through the garden, planting blocks of the same colour is more effective than singular plants dotted around the garden
Plant a wide variety of nectar producing plants to give a wide range of flowers for the butterflies to feed from
Butterflies don’t mind some chaos in the garden, so cottage garden plantings work quite well
Avoid planting potentially invasive plants - check your local regional requirements and possible weed species and avoid those, choose wisely
Some good nectar producing plant species for butterfly feeding include
o Wildflowers - all of them!
Getting kids involved!
Kids love butterflies, their coloured wings and the way they fly around the garden like little fairies, my girls love following them around and watching where they land, and I love watching them do it! You could get your kids involved with creating your butterfly haven, in turn gardening and the outdoors, this can be done in many ways.
Ask them to help choose plants that are to be added to the butterfly garden
Ask your kids to start their own butterfly journal and start identifying them throughout their whole life cycle from the eggs, caterpillars, pupae and then the butterflies that come back to lay their eggs on the host plants
In their butterfly journal, they can draw pictures of the life cycle and colour them in and depending on their ages look them up and name them
Get the kids to help make different coloured garden tags and place them in the garden where the butterflies perch
Getting the community involved!
If you’d like to increase the chances of seeing more and other types of butterflies, ask your neighbours to plant butterfly attracting plants in their gardens or on verges (if local government regulations allow this of course)
Get involved with your local garden community groups and see if they’d be interested in adding a butterfly garden to their patch, you can use the knowledge that you have gained to assist them in choosing the right seeds, plants, and requirements to grow and maintain the butterfly haven and this in turn will increase the biodiversity of the community garden