Cannot Wait for Earth Day

To celebrate Earth Day, North American Butterfly Association is holding a week-long raffle, Monday April 21st through Friday April 25, 2014.

There will be a raffle drawing and prize awarded each day!

Gardeners Supply Gift Cards

Monday’s raffle prize is a $25 gift card, which has been generously donated by Gardener’s Supply Company. Their online catalog has a range of products that would suit butterfly gardeners as well as butterfly watchers. We thank Gardener’s Supply Company for supporting NABA!

There are three different ways to win a chance for the daily raffle prize: 1)  join NABA, 2) give a gift membership to NABA, or 3) certify your butterfly garden (and buy a certified sign at the same time). Any of these options will enter you for a chance to win the daily raffle prize.

Thinking about joining NABA and certifying your garden? Your name will be entered twice in the daily drawing. The raffle prize winner will be selected at random from all new memberships, gift memberships, and certified butterfly garden applications received online from Monday April 21 at 12:01 AM until Midnight Monday April 21st.

Learn more about North American Butterfly Association and its programs that promote

enjoying butterflies and their habitat, please visit: About NABA

Northern Spicebush is a feast for the eyes as well as for butterflies.

Northern Spicebush Flowers

Northern Spicebush Flowers

It is Spicebush season in the butterfly garden. In the spring, Northern Spicebush is one of the first native shrubs to bloom. The flowers of Northern Spicebush are numerous, pale yellow, lightly fragrant, and, under the right weather conditions, can bloom for up to two weeks.

Fitting Northern Spicebush into a garden is easy. Shrubby by nature, it can be kept to a small size by cutting back the larger branches every so often. It can even be cut back to the ground, with new growth coming back as a profusion of twiggy stems. In fact, older large bushes tend to become brittle and benefit from a trim before limbs break under winter snow loads.

Northern Spicebush as a small shrub

Northern Spicebush as a small shrub

Butterflies do not often visit Northern Spicebush flowers for nectar; other small insects, including bees and flies, primarily cross-pollinate the spring flowers. Starting in late spring or early summer, the Spicebush Swallowtail will lay eggs on the Northern Spicebush leaves. The resulting caterpillars will feast on the leaves until it is time for them to pupate.

Northern Spicebush as a small tree. Notice that older thick branches have been sawed off or broken in heavy snow.

Northern Spicebush as a small tree. Notice that older thick branches have been sawed off or broken in heavy snow.

Spicebush finishes the garden season with colorful leaves. If you happen to have both a male and female Northern Spicebush in your garden, fall will also bring on a brief display of red berries on the female Northern Spicebush. Look for the berries in late summer to early fall. They are a favorite food of many birds and mammals so they will not be left on the shrubs for very long.

Butterfly Feeders in a NABA Certified Butterfly Garden

Goatweed Leafwing and Viceroy visiting butterfly feeder at NABA Certified Garden #77 in Eastern Kansas

Goatweed Leafwing and Viceroy visiting butterfly feeder at NABA Certified Garden #77 in Eastern Kansas

Butterfly Feeders are not necessary for butterflies but they are necessary for some butterfly gardeners! Putting a butterfly feeder in your garden brings the butterflies down to viewing level, letting you know which butterflies are visiting your garden without chasing around to find them.

The best place to put your feeder is near a spot that is easily seen, be that out near a nectar filled flower border or in front of your window. When starting with a butterfly feeder, a location close to your house might be best place to start so that you can monitor it. Feeders also often need to be brought in at night to avoid non-butterfly feeding (think raccoon, opossum, bear…), which is yet another reason to place the feeder in a location where it will not be forgotten.

Different locations use different butterfly bait so some experimentation is necessary. Some NABA members have shared details of the bait that works for them in their locations. The following report and photo are from Lenora Larson in Eastern Kansas in her NABA Certified Butterfly Garden #77:

“Here’s my fruit feeder with a Viceroy and a Goatweed Leafwing.  I use both oranges and “Mung”—the fermented banana, beer & molasses mix.  I have to bring it in every night because of Rocky Raccoon.   It’s a ceramic pie plate (easy to clean) set on a 3 foot pedestal with paths on both sides because photography is my goal in attracting these beauties.”

The photo sent by Lenora is from September 2013 but Lenora already has the feeder out this spring in anticipation of butterfly activity on sunny spring days. She reports already seeing Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas, Goatweed Leafwings, Red Admirals, Spring Azures, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, and the ubiquitous Cabbage White out in the garden.

Do you use a butterfly feeder? What is your location and what have you found is the best butterfly bait?

Trees and Shrubs for Butterfly Gardens

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Black Cherry

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Black Cherry

Many trees and shrubs offer caterpillar food and are therefore important to include in a butterfly garden if you wish to help increase butterfly populations. Of course, trees and shrubs are not always the easiest plant to fit into a garden, yard, or balcony!

Whether you are short on space or simply don’t have the interest in growing trees and shrubs, you might still want to take inventory of trees and shrubs in your area which could be important caterpillar food plants. Even if you are only able to provide nectar plants in your yard or garden, knowing the full life cycle of butterflies in your area will enrich your experience butterfly watching experience.

Spring is the best time to examine your neighborhood trees and shrubs and requires no trespassing. During the spring blooming period, it is often easy to spot a tree or shrub at a distance that might otherwise go unnoticed during the rest of the year.

Two trees that are easy to identify during their spring blooming period are Northern Spicebush and Black Cherry. While Northern Spicebush provides caterpillar food for only one butterfly, the Spicebush Swallowtail, Black Cherry is happily devoured by Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purples, and Coral Hairstreaks.

Look for Northern Spicebush with its early yellow flowers that cling closely up and down each branch and blooms early in spring. Black Cherry blooms later than Northern Spicebush. It is a tall tree with drooping white flowers that are easily seen at a distance.



The Monarch Fueling Project

Monarch Fueling Project Butterfly gardens do not discriminate! All butterflies are welcome and encouraged to visit.

This spring however, one butterfly, the Monarch, needs a little extra care and encouragement. Monarch populations are low and as the spring migration progresses,  we can extend a special welcome to Monarchs by making sure that the nectar plants they favor are available in our gardens.

Pollinator Partnership has four brochures listing nectar plants that are favored by Monarchs as they migrate along the East Coast. Each brochure is specific to a certain part of the eastern migration route and can serve as a guide to direct  gardeners towards which nectar plants should be in bloom when Monarchs pass through. The guides remind us to also plant milkweed which is used as a nectar plant as well as for caterpillar rearing.

No time to get ready for the spring migration? The guides also list nectar plants that will be blooming during the fall migration. Plants put in the ground this spring, should be flowering nicely by fall, ready for Monarchs as they head towards Mexico.

The Pollinator Parthership guides start in the Green Zone for Florida and parts of Georgia. The Orange Zone is continues with plant suggestions for some of Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The Blue Zone covers part of North Carolina and Virginia. And finally, the Yellow Zone covers the time from mid-May through mid-June when the Monarchs pass through part of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Not only will the nectar plants suggesting in these guides appeal to Monarchs but to many other butterflies and pollinators as well.


Choosing Which Milkweed to Plant

Monarch caterpillar on Tropical Milkweed

Monarch caterpillar on Tropical Milkweed

Planting milkweed for Monarchs is one of the important first steps in starting a butterfly garden this spring.

Once you have decided to plant milkweed, the next step is to choose which type of milkweed will be best for your site. Monarch Joint Venture has a brochure that details the milkweed species that are native to the central United States. Some of the milkweed species in the brochure can be hard to find in local nurseries but are worth searching for.

If you have not already started your own native milkweed plants from seed, the milkweed variety that you plant this year will depend on what is available at plant nurseries. While there are about 100 species of milkweed native to the United States, very few are commercially available. Swamp Milkweed is often found for sale, as is Butterfly Milkweed.

In many parts of the United States, Tropical Milkweed is the milkweed most commonly found for sale. Not native to the United States, it is an attractive plant with bright red or yellow flowers.  It is easy to grow from seed and is the always the first milkweed in my garden to have Monarch caterpillars happily munching away on its leaves.  If started from seed in spring, it could be late summer before flowers arrive but in the meantime it will be a source of tender milkweed leaves that are very attractive to egg laying Monarchs. Many years, my stand of tropical milkweed has very few flowers because the plants are eaten down to the stalk by hungry Monarch caterpillars.

Many butterfly gardeners feel that Tropical Milkweed is a problematic milkweed due to the Monarch parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE). The parasite is transferred as a spore, moving from milkweed to milkweed attached to the adult Monarch’s abdomen. The buildup of this parasite in Monarchs can limit their life span over time.  In parts of the southern United States where Tropical Milkweed is grown as a perennial, to avoid a buildup of OE spores it is suggested that Tropical Milkweed be grown as an annual (by removing plants each year), cut back to the ground once or twice a year, or not grown at all.

Find more about milkweeds on’s Monarchs and Milkweed page.

Why Would You Want to Certify Your Butterfly Garden?

Butterfly Garden Certification Sign Planning and taking care of a garden is a lot of work! Don’t even get started talking about weeding, mulching, and watering, it can be such a big job. So why would a person want to take the time out of an already busy garden life to fill in a form and certify their butterfly garden?

Certifying your butterfly garden not only demonstrates your commitment to native butterflies but also lets others knows of your decision to improve habitat for both people and butterflies. Placing a certification sign in your house or garden helps to spread the word about your concern for butterflies and multiplies your efforts by encouraging other people to do something similar. The more people who replace nonnative lawns with butterfly and pollinator habitats, the better for our communities as well as butterflies. Every single butterfly garden certification helps demonstrate this fact. There is no reason why we can’t share the space humans use with all important pollinators.  By putting up a sign, you are letting others know that it is important to you and it helps to start a conversation that can result in more gardens and less lawns.

Butterfly Garden Plant – Golden Alexander

Golden Alexander Zizia aurea One of the earliest perennial plants to emerge in the spring in my NJ butterfly garden, Golden Alexander (Zizia aura) is becoming one of my favorite plants.

Easily started from seed two years ago, Golden Alexander has multiplied (without any aggressive tendencies) and seems to be one of the very few plants that my neighborhood deer do not enjoy. Black Swallowtails use Golden Alexander as a caterpillar food plant, but to date, Black Swallowtails seem to prefer the parsley that I grow over Golden Alexander. This year, now that I have a larger number of Golden Alexander plants, I imagine that the Black Swallowtails might take some notice.

Even though Golden Alexander is waking up from a long cold winter, it will still be weeks before many of the plants in my butterfly garden reappear. One of the latest to emerge in the spring are milkweeds, often not poking through the ground until early May.