One of the pleasures of the warm weather months in St. Louis is seeing graceful, colorful butterflies fluttering across your yard. If you enjoy these visits, you can attract a bountiful number of the largest and most beautiful butterflies common to our area, the monarch and swallowtail.
Two types of plants are essential for butterfly life. Host plants have leaves that butterfly caterpillars feed on and where they form their chrysalis, or pupa. Nectar plants provide butterflies with nourishment.
The monarch butterfly is the only insect that migrates to a warmer climate 2,500 miles away each year. Monarchs arrive here in mid-summer looking for food, lay their eggs, and in a few days caterpillars emerge. The butterflies migrate to Mexico in October to hibernate in oyamel fir trees there.
The favored host plant of monarch caterpillars is swamp milkweed. Their preferred nectar sources are butterfly milkweed and whorled milkweed.
By having these plants in your garden, you can fulfill the lifecycle of monarchs, and they will come back to your yard year after year.
Swallowtail butterflies are active here from April through October, and do not migrate. All swallowtail species found in Missouri hibernate as pupa, which lays dormant through the winter. The caterpillar emerges in spring and feeds on leaves of their favored host plants – zizia or aurea. Plum or cherry trees are hosts for tiger swallowtails.
The favored nectar plants of swallowtails are golden Alexander, a low-growing ornamental with yellow cone-shaped flowers in late spring and early summer. Other swallowtail nectar sources include liatris, black-eyed Susan, purple coneflower Ansonia, asters and penstemon, a flowering plant in a variety of colors that attracts hummingbirds as well.
By selecting these attractive native perennials, you will have colorful foliage and also plenty of butterflies visiting throughout the growing season.
STEVE CALLOWAY is owner of Garden Green Horticulture Service. They help homeowners select the plants, trees and shrubbery that best meet their aesthetic desires and that will thrive in their sunlight, soil and moisture conditions. They also work to revitalize and restore gardens, to help homeowners with the changes that will make their yards better year after year. You can call or email Steve for a complimentary consultation in your yard, to identify your plants and advise on how to keep them healthy and looking their best. You can reach Steve at 314-288-5036 or firstname.lastname@example.org.