On Magic Wings: A Visit to the Beautiful Butterfly Conservatory & Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden…

March 4th, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

Postman (Heliconius melpomene) – Native to Central and South America

Spring may be fast approaching, but yesterday’s cold and wintry temperatures left me craving a bit of warmth, moisture and color. I love visiting conservatories at this time of year, and fortunately, I live near several, wonderful gardens-beneath-glass. One of my favorite wintertime ‘vacation’ spots is the nearby Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield, Massachusetts. The 8,000 foot greenhouse contains hundreds of blooming, tropical plants, a koi pond, birds, reptiles and of course, beautiful and exotic butterflies from all over the world.

Gardeners often ask me what they can do to attract beneficial insects —especially butterflies— to their gardens. Providing a constant source of nectar from cluster-blooming flowers —particularly Buddleia (butterfly bush), Asclepias (both native and tropical milkweed and butterfly weed), Verbena bonariensis, Monarda (bee balm), Phlox, Heliotrope, Aster, Scabiosa, Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s Lace), Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush), Viburnum, Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed), Liatris (gayflower) and Sedum (stonecrop)is one of the keys to drawing butterflies into your garden. And although the plants mentioned here are favorites, remember that most flowering plants will attract butterflies. Try to fill your garden with blossoms from spring through fall (when migrating butterflies need to gather strength for their journey south), supplementing flowering perennials and shrubs with free-blooming annuals. And remember, many plants attractive to butterflies are also fantastic sources of food for other pollinators; including bees and hummingbirds. Native plants and grasses supply not only food for local caterpillar and butterfly populations, but also create and provide habitat for butterflies throughout their lifecycle and metamorphosis. Butterflies prefer protected spots —enclosed by nearby fences, shrubs/hedges, trees or other tall plants— where they may light on flowers without being blown away by wind. Creating a still oasis will help you to spot these beautiful creatures on calm-wind days.

Beyond design and planting, there is another critical thing to consider when gardening with butterflies in mind. Most gardeners reading this blog have adopted organic practices, but it’s important to note that even the use of organic pesticides can be harmful to butterflies and other beneficial insects. Butterflies of course begin their lives in tiny, vulnerable egg-clusters. As their life cycle progresses —and they become voracious caterpillars— many butterflies are inadvertently killed when they consume pesticide-laden foliage on host-plants; including leaves treated with organic substances like insecticidal soap and Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki). Use organic pesticides sparingly —only when absolutely necessary— and in a targeted manner. To avoid unintentionally killing butterfly caterpillars and other beneficial larvae, become familiar with garden insects, and their various stages of development. Learning about butterflies —and watching their metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to mature butterfly— is a great activity to share with children. If you live in New England, I highly recommend a visit to Magic Wings Conservatory & Garden at any time of the year.

Cattleheart (Parides iphidamus) – Native to Central and South America

Glasswing (Greta oto) – Native to Central and South America

Yet-to-be Identified.

Female Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia (see male below)

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonia) – Native to Central and South America

Rice Paper (Idea leuconoe) – Native to Asia

Male Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) – Native to Asia

Owl Butterfly (Caligo eurilochus) – Native to Central and South America

Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) – Native to Central and South America

All of the butterflies pictured here —from Central/South America and Asia— were taken at Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory. I will be writing more about North American butterflies in spring and summer. My favorite butterflies from my visit to the conservatory were the Glasswing and Blue Morpho, and in my own yard, I am partial to Monarch butterflies. What are your favorites? Do you try to draw butterflies to your garden oasis?

Special Thanks to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in Deerfield Massachusetts for Information, Resources and a Lovely Afternoon!

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Article and Butterfly/Botanical Photos are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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