Provincial Partner

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Annual lecture
Butterfly atlas
Moth Atlas
Moth Checklist
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Field trips
Insect counts
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About insects

Insects of Ontario
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Butterfly Gardening

Contact us

For Ontario Nature

Herp Atlas

Gardening for butterflies

A free download: Gardening for Butterflies: Attracting, Rescuing and Raising Butterflies by Thelma Beaubien. Published in 2016. 61 pages.

For a demonstration of how a community can come together and dedicate land for butterfly habitat -- see the "Butterfly Gardens of Saugeen Shores" on Lake Huron.

Imagine if all backyards were a haven for butterflies! Here are a few basic rules:
  • Avoid insecticides: these are toxic to butterflies
  • Provide sources of food (nectar) and water for adult butterflies
  • Provide food for butterfly caterpillars
  • Provide shelter
Butterflies visit a variety of flowers to sip their nectar. Some of their favourites include:
  • Buddleia davidii (not a native plant but a big hit with butterflies!)
  • Coneflower - purple coneflower, gray coneflower
  • Bergamot, Ironweed, Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed, Boneset), Vetch
  • The Milkweeds: Common milkweed, Swamp milkweed, Butterfly weed
  • New Jersey Tea
  • Coreopsis, Daisies, Sunflowers, Rudbeckia, Liatris
  • Goldenrod, Asters, Sedum
Some butterflies prefer tree sap and rotting fruit. A good water source is a patch of wet sand.

Butterfly caterpillars feed on a variety of plants. Some of the most common ones include:
  • Nettles (particularly stinging nettle) for the Red Admiral, Comma and Milbert's Tortoiseshell
  • Milkweed (common, swamp, butterfly weed) for the Monarch
  • Anything in the parsley family (e.g. Queen Anne's Lace) for the Black Swallowtail
  • Pearly everlasting and Pussy toes for the American Painted Lady
  • New Jersey Tea for the Spring Azure
  • Willow for the Mourning Cloak and Viceroy 
  • Elm, hops and hackberry for the Question Mark (The Snout butterfly also feeds on hackberry)
  • Turtlehead for Baltimores
  • Native grasses and sedges for Skippers
Plant the plants in clumps rather than singly. Don't clean up your garden too much as the pupae may overwinter in your garden debris.

Such a garden may also attract other beneficial insects such as ladybird beetles, dragonflies, sweat bees, honey bees, and moths who will visit the same flowers at night.

Beneficial Insects 

Insects are a vital part of our environment. They serve important purposes including
  • pollination of plants
  • recycling of nutrients
  • predation on other insects
Insects, bees in particular, pollinate many plants important to humans including apples, cherries, nuts, berries, coffee, cucumbers, squashes and many other fruits and vegetables. They also keep other insect populations under control.

Some beneficial insects in your garden include:
  • Ladybird beetles (adults as well as larvae) feed on aphids, scale insects and mites
  • Lacewing larvae feed on caterpillars and aphids
  • Parasitic wasps and tachinid flies predate on caterpillars
  • Dragonflies feed on mosquitoes and other insects as adults and as larvae
  • Ground beetles feed on other insects, slugs and snails
  • Flies of many types that pollinate flowers or recycle nutrients
  • Assassin bugs feed on caterpillars and other insects
  • Carrion beetles dig the soil from beneath small dead animals, burying them