With its four-inch wingspan and vibrant black and orange pattern, the Monarch butterfly is easy to recognize. Sadly, Monarch population numbers have experienced a steady and rather dramatic decline in the last decade, much of this due to habitat loss and extreme weather changes. Gardeners can help these majestic creatures by planting flowers they like.
Here are some local flowers you'll find at Watters Garden Center that are beautiful to the gardener and even more beautiful to butterflies. This list is specific to Monarchs, their life cycle, and migration patterns. However, all butterflies are attracted to these blooms.
1. Butterfly Bush ~ The name says it all: the butterfly bush attracts all types of butterflies! The spikes of many small flowers allow Monarchs to cling easily to the plant while drawing nectar from the many tubular blooms. The long blooming season of this mountain-hardy shrub gives Monarchs a reliable supply of nourishment as they complete their traditional, long migration. For the Monarch's sake, and for the pleasure of its residents, every home should have at least one of these easy to grow bloomers.
2. Cosmos ~ A member of the daisy family, cosmos is very appealing to Monarch butterflies because of its abundant flowers and plentiful supply of nectar. Although a cosmos blossom looks like one flower, it actually is made up of many tiny tubular flowers surrounded by a ray of petals.
We have this flower available in pots, which when planted will spread quickly across the landscape. Also available are locally sourced seed; just broadcast them on the top of the soil early in the spring, and Mother Nature will tell them when the temperature is right for germination. The flowers are extremely drought and heat tolerant, but they will also bounce back after a light frost.
3. Goldenrod ~ Gold clusters of fireworks erupting from the garden is the best way to describe goldenrod. This perennial bloomer depends on butterflies to carry off its heavy pollen. The flowers are so attractive to butterflies that their numbers almost become annoying!
4. Lantana ~ As it usually is sold in full bloom, lantana is an instant source of nectar to foraging Monarchs. The blooms come in so many colors that they are a good choice for beds or in containers. They even are easily accommodated on the smallest balcony. The plants thrive in blistering sun and well-drained soil.
Miss Huff Lantana is the only mountain hardy variety good to zero degrees yet comes back from the roots like a true perennial.
5. Lilac ~ Your grandma's favorite landscaping shrub is comfortable in your contemporary landscape. Today's new lilacs are more mildew resistant than ever before, and modern cultivars like 'Tiny Dancer' are appealingly compact. Some, like 'Bloomerang', offer a repeat blooming cycle to ever-hungry butterflies.
6. Milkweed ~ Without milkweed there would be no Monarch butterflies; it's as simple as that. This plant has the essential ingredient needed to make Monarch larvae unpalatable to predators. In fact, this adaptation has been so successful for Monarchs that the larva of the Viceroy butterfly has evolved to mimic the color pattern of the Monarch, in hopes of evading predators. We've introduced milkweeds with different colors of blooms, all attractive to Monarchs.
7. Zinnia - Large butterflies like the Monarch enjoy wide-open spaces that allow them to glide over the landscape unhampered. For large areas of garden space start zinnias by seed. One seed packet of zinnias yields the promise of a happy garden site for Monarch butterflies all summer long. Look for red and orange bloomers, and you are apt to draw hummingbirds as well as butterflies. Javalinas, rabbits, and deer find this summertime old-reliable unpalatable.
8. Gopher Plant ~ Known to keep pesky gophers away from the garden, this evergreen perennial blooms in spring just as Monarchs are migrating north. Drought hardy, low water, low care, evergreen, and is beneficial to butterflies! Every yard should have at least one of these hardy bloomers.
The Butterfly experts here at Watters Garden Center have curated an extensive selection of pollinating perennials that not only beautify our gardens but that also attract and nurture butterflies.
Consider this your personal invitation to visit the most extensive selection of butterfly-attracting plants in Northern Arizona.
Until next issue, I'll be here at the garden center helping gardeners grow plants that help Monarchs in the garden.