We watch the graceful flight of colorful butterflies and appreciate their crucial role as pollinators. Establishing butterfly gardens or accommodating them in yard plantings increases food sources radically threatened by reductions in blossom-rich landscapes due to development, intensive agriculture, insecticides and climate change.
The National Wildlife Federation reports that butterflies are particularly attracted to red, yellow, orange, pink and purple blossoms that are flat-topped or clustered for landing or hovering, with short flower tubes that present easy access to nectar.
Regional planting. In the Southeast, goldenrod, with its arching, yellow flowers, appeals to Buckeye species. Tiger Wing, Dainty Sulphur and Malachite lead the way in Florida.
Some other suitable plants and trees for attracting butterflies, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center are yarrows, red and white baneberries, and red, scarlet and soft maples in the Northeast; Butterfly and Honey daisies, Indian Mallow, American Century and Husiache, in the Midwest; and Giant, Ground, Subalpine and Noble firs, Vine Maple and Columbian Monkshoods in the Northwest.
Inspiring individual efforts. Care2.com reports that California Academy of Sciences aquatic biologist Tim Wong cultivated California Pipevine plants in his backyard butterfly home four years ago upon learning that it is the primary food for California Pipevine Swallowtails in the San Francisco area. Starting with just 20 caterpillars, he was able to donate thousands of the swallowtails to the San Francisco Botanical Gardens last year and has grown more than 200 plants.
Milkweed. Populations of iconic Monarch butterflies have plummeted 90 percent in the past 20 years, reports the National Wildlife Federation, primarily due to decline of 12 native milkweed species. They need support for their annual 2,000-plus-mile migration from the U.S. Northeast and Canada to central Mexico and back. Joyce Samsel, curator of the Florida Native Butterfly Society, notes that the Florida Monarch stays south of Tampa year-round.
Donate to help. Adopt milkweed habitat land through an Environmental Defense Fund program by donating $35 for one acre up to $350 for 10 acres. Their goal is to retain and protect 2 million acres.