To quote Emerson, summer is a time when “The earth laughs in flowers.” Take time to walk and observe. You’ll see life everywhere, from mosses and insects to large mammals.
Each species has unique qualities, yet is part of one complex living organism. Each insect, flower, and tree has a vital role to play. Often, the survival of one depends on another.
It’s easy to enjoy the vibrant colors and patterns of a wildflower or butterfly’s wings. But it takes a deeper appreciation to sense the greater web of life between life forms. This article explores that special alliance.
Milkweed and the Monarch
If you live in an area that experiences all four seasons, you’ll probably be quick to recognize the signals indicating summer’s return. One of these annual signs is the emergence of butterflies. Most species of this notably beautiful insect spend the winter and early spring as eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalides. Once warmer weather begins to take hold, much like the flowers they rely on to survive, they “bloom” into colorful fliers during April, May, and June.
With its striking orange and black colors, the monarch butterfly is one of the easiest to identify in nature. A native tree nursery that includes an assortment of milkweed flowering plants is sure to attract these creatures, as milkweed represents the exclusive diet of monarch caterpillars.
From egg to chrysalis (cocoon), the milkweed plant is the only food source for the monarch. Without access to these plants, the larva are unable to survive. This begs the question: What is it about the milkweed that makes them so uniquely special to this species of butterfly?
The surprising answer is that the milkweed plant contains a substance that is poisonous to most vertebrates, which are the primary threat to monarchs. The developing larvae consume a significant amount of milkweed – up to 2,700 times their original weight – and keep eating until they’re ready to enter the pupa, or chrysalis stage. The plant also provides protection from surrounding danger. Interestingly, it is the poison in the milkweed which gives the monarch butterfly its bright orange color, which warns predators to stay away.
Other Native Host Plants for Butterflies
In addition to milkweed, there are a number of native perennials, shrubs, and trees that also serve as host plants for butterflies. Like the milkweed, these plants feed and shelter butterflies at various stages throughout their development.
If you’re looking to cultivate a butterfly-friendly native nursery, we recommend including both host and nectar native plants in protected areas of your landscape. Choose species that bloom across different seasons in order to support a wide variety of butterflies and other pollinators!
Common Native Host Plants for Butterflies
The plants preferred by an array of butterflies and other pollinators (such as hummingbirds) include:
- Black-eyed Susan
- Butterfly milkweed
- Common milkweed
- Purple coneflower
- Swamp milkweed
- Little bluestem
- Switch grass
- Blue false indigo
Each of these native plants contribute to the sustainability of butterflies, and other pollinators, as they provide a source of food, protection, shelter, or all three. In exchange, pollinators help plants by providing the essential transfer of pollen from a flower’s anthers (the male part of the plant) to the stigma (the female part of the plant).
When you help increase these populations through the planting and distribution of native species, you’re playing a vital role in improving local sustainability. We encourage you to explore your options and find out what your customers are looking to add to their native nurseries.
We Are Your Native Headquarters
For generations, our family has worked to restore local ecosystems. We do this by providing our residential and commercial customers with a robust selection of native plants. We offer more than 250 different species of native trees and shrubs, and more than 100 species of native perennials and grasses.
We’re here to help you grow your current inventory of natives, or assist you in starting your native tree nursery. We hope you’ll join us in our mission of ‘restoring earth’s ecosystems one tree at a time.’