Attribution: Sharp Photography (Wikipedia Creative Commons)
Butterfly gardening is a low maintenance, environment-friendly, sustainable type of gardening, that utilises native butterfly plants to attract and maintain the presence of local butterflies year after year. Threats facing Lebanon’s 165 species of butterflies, many of them rare, endemic, and threatened, include habitat loss and degradation, deforestation, agricultural expansion and the use of agrochemicals, overgrazing, desertification, and climate change. Butterfly gardening, when applied on a large-scale throughout the country, has wide potential for nature conservation by restoring habitats in the wild and making local gardens sanctuaries for butterflies. Turning degraded habitats or abandoned farmland into butterfly gardens will likely restore many of the butterfly populations to a level comparable with that in the wild.
Butterflies are important pollinators
A butterfly garden requires:
1. Butterfly Plants
Butterfly plants encompass “larval host plants” and “nectar-source plants.” Host plants are plants that young butterflies, as caterpillars, depend on for growth and nourishment during development, eating from their leaves and typically completing pupation on them or in close proximity. Nectar plants are plants that provide nourishment in the form of nectar, an energy drink, to adult butterflies. To attract native species of butterflies, native butterfly plants should be planted all throughout the garden. Many of these plants are considered “weeds” to ordinary gardeners, but they have value in butterfly gardening. In Lebanon, there are nearly 500 species of native butterfly plants. Here’s a quick look at Lebanese butterfly plants, the LEXICON LEPIDOPTEROPHYTA. To learn more on these butterfly plants and how to plant them, please buy and read my book Butterfly Gardening in Lebanon.
‘Weeds’ are no less wildflowers and attract plenty of butterflies
Since butterflies are only active in the sun and in good weather, a butterfly garden requires plenty of sunshine. Butterflies typically start basking around 8 or 9 am, raising their body temperatures so that they could fly around and look for mates and food. Typically, butterflies are active from the February through November of each year, the “butterfly season,” but this depends on climate and altitude. Butterflies often hibernate in the colder months or aestivate in the summer when the weather gets really hot. Within the months of September and October, there are again many butterflies, the “butterfly autumn,” many of them migratory.
A butterfly garden also requires water. Butterflies often gather around water sources where they drink and socialise, a phenomenon called “mudpuddling.” A butterfly puddler can be made from such simple materials as mud or sand and sprinkled with water.
Additional sources of nectar will help butterflies obtain the right amounts of food to keep them energised all day long. Butterfly feeders can be made from everyday homemade materials such as jars and sponges and placed on tree branches.
A butterfly garden wouldn’t be complete without shelter. Butterflies seek shelter on cold, windy, and rainy days. Trees and grass make perfect places where butterflies can hide from bad weather. Butterfly houses can also be made from wood and placed around the garden.
Butterfly gardens provide butterflies with shelter and habitat
Butterfly gardening is a type of wildlife, or conservation gardening, that also attracts many other beneficial insects such as moths, ladybugs, dragonflies, and bees. These insects are also pollinators and are highly important in the maintenance of a healthy ecosystem. As such, butterfly gardeners should not use any types of agrochemicals, i.e. pesticides, insecticides, or herbicides, that would otherwise harm these insects. Keep things organic!
Butterfly gardening also encourages positive activities such as butterfly watching. Instead of catching butterflies with nets, which runs the risk of hurting them, photograph them and watch them flutter around. A photograph will last hundreds or possibly even thousands of years, but a damaged specimen won’t. Be butterfly conservationists!