Butterflies and bees are in trouble. Their numbers are dwindling. The 2013-2014 monarch butterfly migration from Canada and the United States to Mexico was down by as much as 44%. (CNN) A major culprit is the disappearance of one of the monarch’s major food sources, midwestern milkweed. About one third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees. Bees also pollinate trees, wildflowers and contribute to overall biodiversity. Reduced plant diversity, lack of wild forage, disease, parasites and pesticides have taken a toll on our bee population. So what can we gardeners do?
- Plant a wide selection of flowers, grasses, shrubs, herbs, trees, veggies- the more variety the better.
- Plant host providing plants (these are the plants that feed the butterfly larvae or caterpillars) like milkweed, parsley, fennel and rue
- Try some native perennials like Missouri primrose, blue indigo and purple coneflower. Plant a few native shrubs like spicebush and New Jersey tea. For fall interest add a few well- behaved native grasses like little bluestem and prairie dropseed.
- Plant a colorful variety of nectar plants (these are plants that feed the adult butterfly) like zinnias, lantana, cosmos, verbena and marigolds
- Let a portion of your yard, even if it’s just a little patch by the compost pile, go or grow natural.
- Use as few pesticides as possible, or go with organic disease and insect controls. If you must spray, do so early in the morning or late in the evening, when the bees are less active.
Here are a few herbs that are particularly beneficial to bees and butterflies. It’s true that the flavor of herbs is best when the flowers are removed, but it’s the flowers that feed bees and butterflies. So plant a few extra and feed our friends!
- Anise Hyssop- licorice scent, purple flowers, butterflies and bees love this plant , perennial
- Basil- many types, the flowers on basil attract bees, basil needs hot weather before planting, annual
- Bloodflower- or asclepias – the #1 monarch butterfly attractor, ornamental, annual
- Bronze Fennel- attractive foliage, ornamental, host plant (or food) for butterfly larvae, perennial
- Dill- ferny foliage has zesty dill flavor, host plant for the butterfly larvae, annual
- Lavender- many types, all attract butterflies and hummingbirds, aromatic and ornamental, tender perennial
- Lion’s Tail- hummingbirds and butterflies love the orange spiky flowers on this ornamental annual, 3-5 ft.
- Parsley-an all time favorite garnish, host plant for butterfly larvae, biennial
- Mint – many types, let some bloom, bees love the flowers, perennial
- Rue- attractive silver foliage, the swallowtail butterfly loves this plant, perennial
- Sage- ornamental varieties like pineapple sage, clary sage and Mexican bush sage are hummingbird magnets, both annual and perennial forms
For more information about bees and how to help save them go here – Bee Friendly
For more information about butterfly gardening visit the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Butterfly House at http://www.butterflyhouse.org/butterflies/butterflygardening.aspx