Road Food for Butterflies

Road Food for Butterflies

Add nectar-rich plants to your yard to attract and feed migrating butterflies. 

Traveling always makes me hungry. In fact, whenever my wife Karen and I take a long road trip we don’t even consider leaving the house until the back seat of our car is well stocked with fruit, nuts, sandwiches, and, of course our personal favorite -- cheese popcorn.

Of course, migrating animals also need food as they travel, but they don’t have the luxury of a back seat to store all their goodies. Instead they have to rely on whatever groceries they can find along the way, often going for many miles without a bite to eat.

That’s why we always plant nectar-rich flowers in our garden that these hungry travelers can rely on as they pass through on their fall migration. Two of our favorite nomads are Monarch and Gulf Fritillary butterflies.

Monarchs are world famous voyagers, often fluttering their way from Canada to the mountains of Mexico in just a few weeks. To keep them nourished for the long journey we always include some autumn-flowering perennials such as aster, chrysanthemum, butterfly bush, coneflower, black-eyed Susan, sedum, and Joe pye weed.

The large, bright orange Gulf Fritillary butterfly is another autumn traveler. Before cold weather hits, these spectacular tropical butterflies travel from as far North as Tennessee to frost-free regions of Florida and the Gulf Coast. Last fall tens of thousands of these beautiful insects were spotted moving south through the Florida panhandle during October and November. Some of their favorite travel snacks include lantana, passionflower (which is also a host plant for their larvae), pentas, and Verbena bonariensis.

Surprisingly, other butterfly species migrate, too. Sometimes these trips are shorter in duration, such as when they need to scout new territories for a more secure food source for themselves and their larvae. Butterfly species such as Red Admiral. Painted Lady, Common Buckeye, Question Mark, Cloudless Sulphur, and Mourning Cloak often travel to warmer climes or new locations where food is more plentiful. All of these vagabonds will also flock to your yard when you fill your garden with fall-blooming annuals and perennials.  Just save the cheese popcorn for yourself!

Written by Doug Jimerson