There have been many articles on how to attract butterflies to your garden which just list certain plants, but in truth it is a little more complicated than that. In order to create a true butterfly friendly garden you need to understand the life cycle that starts with a caterpillar and eventually produces the winged insect. Each stage of the cycle involves different plants for food and habitat. Recently Margaret Roach from A Way To Garden? interviewed Matthew Shepherd the co-author of “Gardening for Butterflies” and you can read an extract below. You can also enter a competition to win a copy of the book.

Q. The first butterfly to flutter through my garden this spring, as ever, was the cabbage white, maybe not my favorite since it spells potential trouble in the cabbage patch?but quickly came the charming little blue spring azure, and the bigger mourning cloak, and I even saw a very early tiger swallowtail in April.
But seeing butterflies doesn?t mean all is OK, does it? I thought we could do a quick scene-setter on why butterflies are in trouble, and why we want to care about gardening for butterflies?
A. Butterflies are one of those insects that at first glance seem to be everywhere. You mentioned the cabbage white, which seems to crop up early in the year, and there are enough of them around to be potentially a pest.
Often we don?t stop and think of the state of the butterfly, or the health of them. But there is an increasing amount of evidence that not only the rare butterflies?those species that mainly live on a mountaintop, or on some distant prairie?but those butterflies we expect to see in our garden, ones that fly across our neighborhoods, are actually beginning to decline. There are fewer and fewer of them. But often we don?t notice because we still see them, and we haven?t stopped to think. But we?re just seeing fewer of them, or it will be a week between sightings, for example.
So there are lots of things that are affecting this. One of them is just that these days we have ever-greater capacity to change our landscape. There?s the classic image of the bulldozer, and that?s what happening. New houses are going up; new businesses are needing factories and big box stores and all the other things we like to have around us as part of the convenience of our lives.
So the habitats are disappearing; the landscape is changing.
Q. And of course we have as a culture used chemicals for agriculture and other reasons that have impacted on many insects and other organisms.
A. Large areas of our landscapes are cultivated, are farmed. Those areas are inhospitable?they might look green, but there is not much out there to support a butterfly.
black swallowtail caterpillar closeupQ. One of the things people may not know is the life cycle of a butterfly.

A. The basic life cycle is the same for all butterflies. There?s an egg, and then the egg hatches into the caterpillar, and the caterpillar grows and actually goes through a number of stages, which are known as instars.
They can?t grow outside of their skin, so they have to molt. Each time they molt they become another instar, and get bigger and bigger.
It?s remarkable how quickly a caterpillar will grow. A monarch caterpillar, for example, in a matter of only a few weeks?we?re trying to work this out, how many times bigger it is at the end, when it?s big enough and about to pupate. It?s thousands of times bigger from when it comes out of that tiny little speck of an egg.
So the third stage in the life cycle is the chrysalis, when this little worm/grub-like chewing, plant-eating caterpillar disappears for awhile and it returns with wings, and it flies, and it drinks nectar, and it?s totally transformed. And then there?s the adult, which we often see as the butterfly?the adult is the fourth stage.
Different species need different things to complete this life cycle. One of the key components is the right kind of plants for the caterpillar to eat. It might vary from the monarch butterfly caterpillar, which eats milkweed, through a small skipper butterfly that eats grasses. There are many that will eat oak trees or willow trees or many different plants. [Above photo, black swallowtail caterpillar in Margaret?s garden.]

See more at A Way To Garden

And also The Ultimate Guide to Butterflies and How to Prevent Their Decline

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