Butterflies are delicate and delightful symbols of beauty !
They lift our hearts and bring us a glimpse of paradise !
In the tropics, it is a simple thing to attract clouds of these beauties.
By choosing carefully a few special plants you can attract many different kinds of butterflies, and enjoy their uplifting presence year-round.
Birds are the main predators of butterflies, so avoid planting trees that will attract birds near your butterfly garden [capulin, guava, papaya, ylang…].
Choose a spot that receives full sun all day. A small area of the correct plants can attract beautiful butterflies every day. 10 m by 10 m, or less, is fine.
Altho, if you have extra space, why not use it to attract butterflies !
To keep these beauties flitting around your yard thruout their life cycle you need to plant host plants along with the attractor plants. The host plants attract them for laying eggs, perpetuating future generations of more beautiful butterflies.
The caterpillars eat the leaves of several different plants & trees.
Some of their favorites: the cocobolo tree (rosewood), avocado trees, heliconias, & passionfruit vines. To support the passionfruit vine, build a trellis. A pyramid style trellis is easy to construct with pieces of construction rebar wired together. Place the pyramid trellises between other hosts in the outer circle that defines the garden area.
To control weeds, it is best to sterilize the area before planting.
Clear the area of weeds, then rake it.
Now sprinkle a thick layer of manure over the whole area.
Cover the entire area with the black plastic sold at the hardware store. Put rocks on top to keep it in direct contact with the ground. In dry season the heat of the sun amplified by the black plastic will bake the ground, totally sterilizing it in 2 weeks. In rainy season you might have to leave the plastic for up to a month.
The intense heat generated by the black plastic kills weeds' roots, random weed seeds on the ground or in the manure, nematodes (a parasite found in the topsoil), and other undesired bacteria & organisms.
Once the area is baked, remove the plastic, then gently turn the top layer, mixing the manure into the topsoil. Don't dig down too deep, you don't want to mix in the clay subsoil common in the peninsula's inland zones. Ugh!
Butterfly gardens near the beach are still simple, but require a bit more soil-enrichment elements (add topsoil, compost, and manure) before sterilizing.
Actually the good drainage afforded near the beach is excellent for the main attractors -zinnia flowers.
After gently tilling, now you can plant your host trees. Planting with biodynamic techniques will ensure that your host trees will grow quickly,
and fruit & flower early.
(for details on biodynamic gardening in the tropics, go to the rainsong website index, 'articles' button)
At rainsong, we always plant butterfly gardens in a circle, putting the permanent plants, trees, & shrubs around the perimeter, leaving the center area open for the short-lived attractors, the zinnia flowers.
Cocobolos (rosewood) are a medium tree with a narrow crown, so they create less shade than other host trees. They can also easily be trimmed to maintain the inner sunny area.
Heliconias are of varying heights, but none are tall enough to create shade.
Once you have planted your circle of host trees and plants, you can fill in the gaps between them with a wide variety of different shrubs that are long-lived attractors.The local names for the best 2 are - 'sombrilla china' (Chinese unbrella), & 'rabito' (little tail).
Now seed the inner area of the circle with the zinnia seed.
Start with double zinnia seed & use tall varieties only, not dwarfs.
Rainsong's favorite is mixed colors of 'California giant'.
Red is a primal color in nature, and has the strongest attraction for butterflies, so be sure to include red. Sprinkle the seed sparsely over the area, after wetting it down first. Then soak the whole area again with a gentle shower from your water-hose. Faithfully water the whole garden
daily, in the evening is best.
Meticulous gardeners also mound soil around the base of each plant to support them as they spring upwards & burst into colorful blooms.
You should cut the flowers as soon as they show signs of drying up.
The more you trim zinnias, the more they bloom. The life cycle of zinnia plants is 3 months, so in the second month sow fresh seed in the gaps between the first plants. As the first plants begin to dry up, gently cut them with garden shears very near the ground.
You can save the flower buds and dry them to get more seed.
If you start with a double variety zinnia, by the second generation there will be less double blooms (doubles are the results of hybrid genetic manipulation) as the strain splits back to its original natural single flower.
By the 3rd generation, you will have mostly single blooms.
You can continue to propagate future generations of single blooms by collecting the seeds from dried mature flower buds, or re-seed the area anew with a fresh batch of double zinnia seed.
Once you understand the rhythms involved for perpetuating zinnias in continual bloom, you'll find following the cycles becomes instinctual,
and the process doesn't require that much time.
Even if you choose to lapse in the cycle of the zinnia flower, the other
long-lived attractors in the perimeter will continue to attract butterflies.
Also, set up a feeding platform, in full sun, and keep old fruit on it.
Many butterfly species feed on rotted fruit (star-fruit, bananas, papaya, mango…).
For those butterfly lovers with already established gardens and little extra space, just sprinkle zinnia seed amongst your permanent garden plants, in areas where there is full sun, and sit back to watch them bring lovely butterflies to your yard.
Many plants and trees especially excellent for butterfly gardens are available in Rainsong's reforestation nursery.
Happy butterflies !
Mary Lynn Perry
Rainsong Wildlife Sanctuary
Cabuya de Cobano
Tel. # 2642 - 1265
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