Planning a Nursery for Butterflies

Authors:  Terri Whaley and Minnie Eaton.

Butterflies have long been seen as a symbol of rebirth – their pollination of plants is an essential part of nature’s annual renewal.   The Monarch butterflies are perhaps the most well known.  They are truly a natural wonder, migrating up to three thousand miles from Mexico to Canada and back each year!

Swarm of Monarchs. (Courtesy of Marvin Bloomquist)
Swarm of Monarchs.
(Courtesy of Marvin Bloomquist)

Each species of butterfly has specific needs that we call habitat and must have certain plants in order to survive.  Monarch butterflies lay their eggs only on milkweed plants.  After the eggs hatch, the caterpillar offspring eat the milkweed leaves until growing large enough to form a chrysalis to protect the butterfly as it develops.  After a few weeks, a mature butterfly emerges to dry its wings for several hours before flying away in search of nectar and to continue the migration.

Monarch caterpillar  on a milkweed blossom. (Photo courtesy of Sue Kersey)
Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed blossom.
(Photo courtesy of Sue Kersey)

Unfortunately, according to Monarch Watch (monarchwatch.org), Monarch butterfly populations are declining due to loss of habitat.   Therefore, at the Upper Highland Lakes Nature Center, we are building a Monarch Waystation garden to help the butterflies as they pass through central Texas during both spring and fall migration.  Because loss of habitat means less milkweed is available, our garden will have several species of milkweed to serve as a Monarch “nursery”.   Additionally, we will have many plants with flowers to provide nectar for the adult Monarchs and other species of butterflies, as well as bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators.

A healthy breakfast for a Monarch. (Courtesy of Terri Whaley)
A healthy breakfast for a Monarch.
(Courtesy of Terri Whaley)

As you visit the Nature Center in the coming months, you will see the garden evolve and learn ideas to take home to create your own habitat for raising Monarchs and other butterflies in your yard.

For example, look for butterflies (usually males) sipping water at mud puddles to get the salts and minerals they need that are not available in flower nectar.  This action is called “puddling” and you can create your own puddler at home by keeping a shallow bowl filled with sand or mud that you keep moist.  It’s a good idea to add a little Epsom salts for minerals and flat stones so the butterflies can sunbathe.  You can do your part to help these lovely creatures, just as we are doing at the nature center.

2 thoughts on “Planning a Nursery for Butterflies”

  1. How lovely! When will work on the waystation garden begin? Will it be ready for the monarch migration this year?

    1. We are building and planting the waystation this spring. Given that, it will not be ready to support the spring migration this year. By fall, everything should be ready to support the monarchs as they begin their migration south, and by next spring, we should see lots of activity. Be sure to stay connected, and we’ll keep everyone posted. Thanks.

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