Now is the peak time of year for it. Have you been out to have a look, on a good sunny day, to see what is about?
Occasionally we have a big year (as two years ago) when the weather is just right, and masses of butterflies can be seen all around the district. Those years mask the general trend, which is one of decline. Some butterflies can fly a very long way, especially if they have a tailwind. Australian butterflies turn up in New Zealand every summer!
The greatest decline is in our more closely settled areas, and the reason is one that Blind Freddie can see. We are depriving them of the food their babies need. No baby food, no caterpillars. No caterpillars, no butterflies.
Some keen nature-lovers are taking affirmative action. They plant HOST PLANTS - and sure enough, the butterflies come!
Capparis arborea with Caper White butterfly eggs
NOTE: Butterfly Host Plants are not the same thing as "butterfly attracting plants". Host plants are those special plants that caterpillars can eat. They attract a permanent population of butterflies to settle down and raise their families. Some plants sold as "butterfly attracting plants" may be FIFO jobs. Adult butterflies fly in, sip some nectar, and fly out. As our suburbs spread, they may not even do that. If our gardens are too far from the host plants, we will only get the butterflies of the strongest-flying species - and may even not get that, most years.
Which host plants are the best? There is a great deal of advice to be found, in books and on the internet, but it can be difficult to sort out the relevant from the other kind. No amount of host-planting will attract butterflies that do not occur in your area.
Choosing local native plant species.
I recommend it. There are some non-Australian plants which host local butterflies, as well as some Australian plants from other regions. However, people with an interest in our local wildlife may prefer to put in plants that are native to our local area. A butterfly garden might as well be an effective multi-purpose wildlife garden!
Some Local Native Butterfly Hosts,
and Some Local Butterflies
These plants are attractive, and suitable for gardens:
SMALL PLANTS AND GROUND COVERS
Chrysocephalum apiculatum YELLOW BUTTONS Painted Lady
Crotalaria mitchellii CROTALARIA Tailed pea-blue
Einadia species SALTBUSHES Saltbush blue
Plumbago zeylanica GROUNDCOVER PLUMBAGO Plumbago blue
Pseuderanthemum variabile LOVE FLOWER Varied eggfly
Scaevola species FAN FLOWERS Meadow Argus
Swainsona queenslandica, Swainsona brachycarpa DARLING PEAS Large grass yellow
Urtica incisa NATIVE NETTLES. The only host for the Yellow Admiral. An exception to the "suitable for gardens" criterion, perhaps - but a carefully conserved nettle patch is possible on acreages and farms.
Xerochrysum bracteatum STRAW DAISY Painted lady
Female eggfly, photographed in a butterfly house, where there are so many butterflies they will land on your hands.
Yellow admiral. This one was dead, but still beautiful. This butterfly species needs nettles, for its survival.
Alchornea ilicifolia HOLLY DOVEWOOD Yellow albatross
Apophyllum anomalum WARRIOR BUSH Caper white, Caper gull
Breynia oblongifolia BREYNIA Large grass yellow
Carissa ovata KUNKERBERRY Common crow
Dodonaea triquetra (and probably other Dodonaeas) HOPBUSH Fiery jewel
Indigofera australis NATIVE INDIGO Large grass yellow
Rhagodia species SALTBUSHES Saltbush blue
Senna species NATIVE CASSIAS Yellow migrant, Grass yellows
Swainsona galegifolia DARLING PEA BUSH Large grass yellow
Small grass yellow.
A pair of tailed emperors - and yes, they were kissing!
Acacia species WATTLES Tailed emperor, Large grass yellow, Hairstreaks
Capparis species NATIVE CAPER TREES Caper white, Caper gull
Cassia species NATIVE CASSIA TREES Lemon migrant, Yellow migrant, Tailed emperor
Citrus australis NATIVE ROUND LIME Orchard swallowtail, Dainty swallowtail, chequered swallowtail
Ficus coronata SANDPAPER FIG Common crow
Neolitsea species BOLLYGUMS Blue triangle
Notelaea species MOCK OLIVES Bronze flat
Pararchidendron pruinosum SNOW WOOD Tailed Emperor
MEDIUM TO LARGE TREES
Acacia species WATTLES, BRIGALOW Hairstreaks
Alphitonia excelsa SOAP ASH Small green-banded blue
Brachychiton species BOTTLE TREE, FLAME TREE, KURRAJONG Tailed emperor,
Cryptocarya species JACKWOOD, BROWN LAUREL Blue triangle. Bronze flat. Macleay’s swallowtail.
Drypetes deplanchei YELLOW TULIPWOOD Yellow albatross,
Ficus species NATIVE FIGS Common crow
Flindersia species CROWS ASH, LEOPARD ASH, LONG JACK Orchard swallowtail
Geijera salicifolia WILGAS Swallowtails, all kinds
Small green-banded blue
RUSHES, GRASSES AND SEDGES
Carex species SEDGES Evening brown, Skippers, Darts
MOST NATIVE GRASSES Common brown, Evening brown, Ringlets, Skippers, Darts, Xenicas
Lomandra species MATRUSH Splendid ochre, Skippers, Darts
Hardenbergia violacea HARDENBERGIA Grass Blue
Hoya australis HOYA Common crow
Melodorum leichhardtii ZIG ZAG VINE Four-barred swordtail
Parsonsia species GARGALOO, MONKEY ROPE Common crow, Lesser wanderer.
Passiflora species NATIVE PASSIONFRUITS Glasswing
Secamone elliptica CORKY MILK VINE Blue tiger
ALL SPECIES, Jezebels, Azures.
Where to get the Plants
Local native plants for the Toowoomba Region are not widely available. Some of the better local nurseries (i.e.not the big chains) may have these plants.
Otherwise, the above plants (except mistletoes and nettles) are all stocked at the Crows Nest Community Nursery. At any given time, you would find most of them in stock.
For more on how to shop at the Crows Nest Community Nursery, type its name into the white search box at top left.
Hosting a Party, but Nobody Comes?
It is frustrating to have planted a butterfly smorgasbord, and still not have no sign of your hoped-for guests.
If you are not finding your butterfly garden as successful as you had hoped, here are some handy hints:
1. Pay attention to which butterfly species you already see within a kilometre or so of your home. Target these ones first, with your host plantings. If you see only cabbage whites, you may have a lot of work to do! (Cabbage whites are not Australian natives, but are now our most common species - a sad state of affairs!)
Cabbage White. We can do better than this!
2. Butterflies can and do fly a LONG way, so you can reasonably expect to attract new butterflies to your area. Australian butterflies turn up in New Zealand with some regularity. Queensland species have spread to Victoria because of the planting of their host species down there). They are more likely to move in at your place if there is more than just one, lonely isolated host plant. Plant more if you can fit them in. Encourage your neighbours to do the same. Contribute to any going revegetion projects in your area, making sure the plant lists include butterfly hosts. Ask for suitable street and park trees.
3. Plant lots of flowers. Most adult butterflies need nectar. It's a high-sugar food, and fuels a high-energy lifestyle. It's actually the honey scent, rather than the colour, that is the big draw, so some very modest-looking white flowers are tops for butterfly-attracting. Butterflies aren't picky. Native, non-native, so long as they provide a good nectar supply, butterflies will come. And once attracted to your garden, they may stay, if they meet other butterflies and discover that there are suitable host plants nearby.
Food for the Grown-ups
It's all about nectar, and a sweet honey scent.Caper White, Blue tiger, Common crow, and Lesser wanderer, on a Callistemon flower
Here are some good nectar plants. These are all local native species, so help to support other native wildlife as well.
Senna species NATIVE SENNAS (The yellow flowers attract yellow butterflies. For some, these are host plants as well.)
PEA FLOWERS. (Are also host plants)
Melaleucas and Callistemons. BOTTLEBRUSHES (Try Melaleuca quercina, an endangered local native species which is outstandingly attractive to butterflies.)
DAISIES - all kinds, including the ones with bright yellow centres, but no petals. (Are also host plants)
Bursaria spinosa SWEET BURSARIA Fabulously successful at attracting a multitude of insects.
Flindersia species CROWS ASH ETC.(Are also host plants)
Pavetta australiensis.BUTTERFLY BUSH
Morinda jasminoides SWEET MORINDA
Parsonsia species GARGALOO, MONKEY ROPE, ETC. (Are also host plants)
Hoya australis HOYA (Also a host plant).
Xanthorrhoea species. GRASSTREES.
Painted lady on grasstree spike in spring.
Worried about Caterpillars?
Laying eggfly, and caterpillar
Some people just can't bear the thought of caterpillars eating their precious plants, and even avoid butterfly host plants for that reason.
Do any of these thoughts help:
1. Actually, most butterfly caterpillars don't make themselves conspicuous. A casual glance won't notice any damage at all, even when a plant is actually producing plenty of beautiful butterflies. If you have an ugly caterpillar infestation, it's probably a moth, or even a non-caterpillar like a sawfly.
Two exceptions are:
- Caper butterflies, which do make a mess of native caper plants. It doesn't seem to worry the plants, which bounce back refreshed from being pruned. Like any pruned plant, however, they are temporarily ugly.
- Orchard butterflies. Even these are not usually conspicuous, especially on their native hosts, but they have large caterpillars and sometimes do make a mess of some vulnerable, introduced citrus species.
Orchard butterfly caterpillar
2. Butterflies are beautiful, and having host plants means that you spend a lot of time noticing them, and less time noticing infinitesimal variations from perfect, in your plants.
3. Do you want a garden with soul? Some gardens are nothing but a pretty face, but most of us would like something more that that. Gardens with soul are vibrant living communities. They can provide far greater pleasure, if you will only notice the beauty of all the garden's residents, not just the plants.
See also my post, “Planting for Butterflies”, December 2, 2010