Butterfly Gardening on the Rise

PHOTO: butterfly gardening

Know Your Butterflies

Butterflies are truly one of the most amazing insects on the planet. They go through four stages of transformation, otherwise known as metamorphosis: egg, caterpillar (larva), chrysalis (pupa), and adult winged butterfly. From country to country, state to state, and county to county,butterflies vary. If you're planning on creating a butterfly garden, it's good to know a few things before you get started.

Butterflies of Illinois

There are more than 90 butterfly species in Illinois. Identifying these beautiful pollinators will help you determine the plants you'll need in your garden. Butterfly species such as black swallowtails (Papilio polyxenes aterius Stoll), Eastern tailed-blues (Everes comyntas Godart), monarchs (Danaus plexippus Linnaeus) and American painted ladies (Vanessa virginiensis Drury), can be seen in more densely populated areas and cities in Illinois.

Different Food for Different Stages

Two of the stages—caterpillar and adult—are the insects' primary feeding stages. Caterpillars usually require leaves, and adults require nectar. Here are just a few species of butterflies found in Illinois, and what they eat, when:

ButterflyCaterpillar dietAdult diet

Black Swallowtail
(Papilio polyxenes)

the foliage of dill, parsley, carrot, and parsnipsnectar of milkweeds and composites

Eastern Tailed-Blue*
(Cupido comyntas)

clover and vetchesnectar of clover, milkweed, and dogbane

(Danaus plexippus)

milkweedsvarious flower nectars

American Painted Lady
(Vanessa virginiensis)

pussy-toes, burdock, pearly everlastings, thistle, and mallownectar from many kinds of flowers, sap flows, and even carrion

Did You Know?

Evidence of butterfly fossils dates back approximately 100 million years. To learn more about butterflies and butterfly gardening, check out these resources at the Lenhardt Library.

Book CoverDesign Your Own Butterfly Garden

By Susan Sales Harkins & William Harkins

Hockessin, Del: Mitchell Lane Publishers, 2009

 Book coverAttracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife   

By David Mizejewski

Upper Saddle River, NJ: Creative Homeowner, 2004

 Book coverAn Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect

By Sharman Apt Russell

Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus, 2009


Book coverThe Butterfly Gardener's Guide

Claire Hagen Dole, Editor

Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2003

 Book coverAirplanes in the Garden: Monarch Butterflies Take Flight 

By Joan Z. Calder

Santa Barbara, CA: Patio Publishing, 2011

Book coverField Guide to Butterflies of Illinois

By John K. Bouseman and James G. Sternburg

Champaign, IL:
Illinois Natural History Survey, 2001


"Butterflies Effect" by Julie Bawden Davis
Rock Garden Quarterly Spring 2006, Vol. 25, Issue 1: pp. 12 – 19
Discusses why native plants attract butterflies, and how to raise butterflies

"Butterflies in the Rock Garden" by Bernard S. Jackson
Rock Garden Quarterly Spring 2006, Vol. 64, Issue 2: pp. 115 – 118
Discusses designing rock gardens with the aim of attracting butterflies

"Butterflies Welcome!" by Jim Childs
Garden Gate August 2009, Issue 88: pp. 30 – 33
Article shares a list of tips and a perennial plant list guaranteer to attract butterflies

"Winged Wonderland" by Paul Demarrais
Horticulture Feb/Mar 2009, Vol. 106, Issue 2: pp. 46 – 49
More tips on attracting butterflies


Websites for more information

Chicago Botanic Garden
Butterfly gardening plant list

Chicago Botanic Garden
Butterflies & Blooms exhibition

The Lepidopterist's Society