Does anyone remember a book called The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle? The caterpillar was so hungry it ate a different kind of fruit every day. Then it eventually spun a cocoon and, on the last page, emerged as a butterfly. Hooray!
Well, I’m sorry to have to break it to you, but that book is not scientifically accurate. I know, it came as a surprise to me too. The fascinating thing about caterpillars is that each kind can only eat the leaves of a very few plants.
Sometimes, in fact, of only one kind of plant. They are not just being picky eaters – they really cannot get nourishment from any other plant. So each caterpillar has a particular host plant, which it can eat.
One thing that the book did get right is that if you want butterflies, you have to start with caterpillars. And if you want caterpillars, then you have to grow the kinds of plants they can eat.
You would think, then, that each butterfly would be associated with a particular plant. That would be kind of neat and tidy, wouldn’t it? But no, life is far more complicated than that.
Caterpillars, of course, come from eggs. The eggs have to be laid on or near the leaves of the host plant. But the eggs are laid by an adult butterfly, who has to be eating to stay alive. And who is to say that the host plant will be in flower at this time, or even that the host plant has flowers that make suitable food for butterflies? And even if a flower has suitable food, it has be the right shape – a butterfly cannot get nectar from a tubular flower like a honeysuckle. The butterfly would feel like a lady in a crinoline dress, just unable to get her wings through the narrow doorway.
So, armed with these fascinating facts, how does one set about making a butterfly garden?
Well, either you can start from the butterfly end, and ask if I want this kind of butterfly, what plants does it need? Or you can start from the plant end, and say what kind of butterfly will this sort of plant attract and support?
Personally, I go for choosing the plants first, because that’s more motivating. If you set your heart on a particular butterfly, and plant to attract it, it will be disappointing if that butterfly does not show up. Whereas if you put in plants that you like, you can enjoy them anyway. And if, surprise! a butterfly shows up, well, isn’t that wonderful.
I saw a butterfly in the Meditation Garden today. It was orange, but it moved too fast for me to see what it was. Tell us in the comments section if you have seen a butterfly on church property.