BY BARBARA STORZ
It takes the right plants to support butterflies from the leaf-dining baby to the nectar-feeding adult stage. Butterflies may get their food from several sources as an adult, but choices for immature stages are focused on a select group of plants.
Fortunately, with more than 1,200 native flowering plant species in South Texas, we have the right plants to support a wide variety of butterflies. We just need to place these plants in our gardens and the butterflies will be dancing across your yard in no time.
Remember, supporting the larval stage, or caterpillar stage, is important not only to support adult butterflies, but caterpillars are a critical source of food for baby birds and to support them to adulthood. One of the first challenges to overcome may be your attitude about caterpillars, or baby butterflies. Caterpillars do not eat the plant to death and most plants rebound quickly and live to provide support for another butterfly. After all, plants and insects have evolved together over thousands of years in support of life.
Several native tree species provide larval food. Leaves of the Lime prickly-ash are enjoyed by the immature Giant Swallowtail. Hackberry is perfect for raising Mourning Cloak butterfly, the Hackberry butterfly, the Question Mark and Snout butterflies. The Mexican Wild Olive, Honey Mesquite, Coma del Sur (Saffron Plum) and Chapote (Texas Persimmon) all provide nectar to a variety of butterflies.
Native shrubs such as Vasey Adelia, Cenizo, Lantana, Barbados Cherry, Tamaulipan Fiddlewood, and Drummond’s Turk’s Cap all provide for both immature and adult stages of several beautiful, and sometimes rare, butterflies. Goldeneye Daisy, along with a variety of our native Mistflowers provide nectar for several species. The three different native Crotons provide food for butterflies, as well, and give the gardener options for lower light situations, as crotons enjoy the shade. The native Plumbago is another native that will do well in full or partial shade.
The prairie Milkweed, Zexmenia, or Wedelia, the Taperleaf Heliotrope, Scarlet Sage, and Frogfruit are all small flowering plants that support a variety of butterflies and can be tucked into most any garden bed. To keep them coming we need to continue to spread the plants critical to their survival. To learn more about how you can bring on the butterflies, be sure to attend the Planta Nativa Festival at Quinta Matzalan on from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, October 19, when they will be celebrating Texas Native Plant Week with award winning author Douglas W. Tallamy.Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home,” will provide a program outside on the giant LED screen under the stars. Go early to enjoy the native plant sale, art show and sale, and poster presentations by the students of UTRGV-Agroecology program. Refreshments will be served.
You can pick up tickets, $25 per person, at Quinta Mazatlan or at the Growing Growers Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to noon today. The market is in Firemen’s Park, corner of 1st Street and Business 83 in McAllen.
Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. You can listen to her gardening radio show from at 7 a.m. Saturdays, or e-mail her at email@example.com.