City Seedling: Flutterby Butterfly
When I was a kid, I heard somewhere that the original name for creatures of the papilio family was not “butterfly,” but “flutterby.” They were named for the way they moved, but somehow the name got switched around. One story says an inventor created a flying machine which he called The Flutterby, and once he copyrighted the name, began charging people five cents every time the word was used. So someone swapped the consonants around to avoid the fee, and the word “butterfly” was born.
It’s a pretty unbelievable story, for a kind of unbelievable creature. No matter how many times I see a monarch fly through my garden, I gasp. They are just so beautiful, and I want to do everything I can to welcome them. So, for the past several weeks I have been working on a new project at the Brunswick Community Garden: putting in a butterfly bed.
Jersey City is home to a surprisingly diverse group of butterflies. I have seen monarchs, painted ladies, red admirals, checkered whites, black swallowtails (below), and yellow swallowtails around the city. And I’m sure there are many more.
Black swallowtail checking out the rue in the butterfly bed.
For the most basic of butterfly gardens, all you need are some attractive nectar sources. While their is variation between the species, there are a number of plants that overlap as nectar sources for most all butterflies. You can look over an extensive list here. Here are a few that I recently planted:
Scabiosa or Pin Cushion Flower.
Buddleia or Butterfly Bush. Or Butterfly Crack. Whatever you want to call it.
Perennial Phlox (with a resident garden cat snoozing in the background).
But if you really want the butterflies to keep coming back, you have to provide a place for them to raise their young, and this is where the bugs get particular. You need to be a little more informed. First, you have to identify the butterflies that commonly visit your garden. Each of these has its own host plant, or group of plants, that its caterpillars can eat. For instance, monarchs will only lay their eggs on milkweed.
I have had good luck with attracting black swallowtails to visit and lay eggs. The host plants these guys like are dill, parsley, fennel and rue. I have seem them lay eggs the most on dill.
Black swallowtail caterpillar mowing down a dill plant.
Keep in mind, that although many of these host plants are things (like herbs) that we like to eat, if you want to have a butterfly garden, these plants need to be specifically for the butterflies. I saw one black swallowtail caterpillar ate two entire dill plants on its own before building its chrysalis. They are bad at sharing, and if you try to steal their lunch, they will intimidate you with these hot pink or orange horns that poke out when they are threatened. (Do you think I’m joking? Video proof here.)
Give butterfly gardening a try, whether you have a whole backyard or a clay pot on your front stoop. They are beautiful and fascinating creatures, and our city always needs more places for them to eat, live and grow. If you’re really serious about butterfly gardening, think about getting your garden certified. It’s totally badass.
Do you have a gardening question/comment/angry rant you’d like to share with Emily? Post it in the comments!