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So you think you know butterflies?


From home, rebirth and transformation butterflies have long been meaningful symbols – especially as a Christian symbol of resurrection.

Worldwide butterflies are symbols of change, endurance and life, according to Cancer

In Native American culture, the butterfly represents transformation.

Closer to the home garden butterflies are important pollinators, necessary to visit buds and blossoms so their efforts can bring forth fruits, flowers and vegetables.

While butterfly nectar feeders are one way to attract these lovely, ethereal creatures planting and nurturing a pollinator garden is a sure-fire way to attract them to your garden – and encourage them to stay.

Butterflies have four stages in their life- cycle: egg, larvae, pupa (the chrysalis stage) and adult.

Bringing butterflies to the garden means providing them with food and nutrition, water, shelter and a place to make their cocoons to work their magical metamorphosis.

“What happens after the caterpillars engorge themselves is they will crawl to a high point and form a chrysalis,” said Andrew Eckhoff, general manager at Bountiful Acres in Buckingham Township.

Depending upon the butterfly species, it may spend 10 to 14 days in the chrysalis stage before emerging as a butterfly.

Their adult lifespan can be brief: from two to about six weeks – and during that time they have lots of work to do.

“Swallowtails make the flight to Mexico, where they have their breeding grounds and then they return north” beginning in March, to begin the cycle anew, Eckhoff said.

A Birds reported several types of butterflies are commonly found in Bucks County.

These categories include: Swallowtails, Whites and Sulphurs, Gossamer-wings, Metalmarks, Admirals, Emperors and Monarchs, among others.

Eckhoff said in addition to Swallowtails and Monarchs look for “Painted ladies, red Admiral, Eastern Comma, and even Zebra swallowtails” a distinctive black and white stripe butterfly that may be found in the region.

What to plant: trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals

If you want to attract butterflies you must provide them something to eat, water to drink and a safe haven to rest and replenish themselves.

“Pentas, lantana and zinnias are great nectar plants and perennials like iron weed, coneflowers and black eyed Susans are good choices,” Eckhoff said.

Bluebeard butterfly bush attracts buckeye butterflies.

Keep in mind though they are popular, butterfly bush is not a native plant and may become invasive in the garden.

Careful planting and management is essential to growing it without crowding out other native or species plants in the garden.

Trees can include sweetbay magnolia, tulip poplar and pawpaw, a native plant with an edible “banana tasting” fruit, Eckhoff said.

Margaret Pickhoff, a commercial horticulture educator in the Bucks County office of Penn State Extension in Wrightstown Township recommends Itea virginica sweetspire, which has “tentacles of beautiful tiny white flowers.”

Use care when selecting milkweed varieties to make sure you plant native varieties beneficial to – and necessary for – Monarch butterflies.

“There is a tropical species, or Mexican milkweed, with showy flowers but something about it can become toxic to Monarch butterflies,” Pickhoff cautioned.

Because Mexican milkweed is not native, its flowering schedule can also interfere with Monarch butterfly migration patterns.

“My suggestion is to make sure it’s not invasive or harmful to pollinators” before creating your pollinator garden, or adding new plants to an established area, she said.