Caterpillar hosts: Grasses including Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), crabgrass
(Digitaria), St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum),
and goosegrass (Eleusine).
Adult food: Nectar from many flowers including swamp and common milkweeds, buttonbush, dogbane, peppermint, red clover,
tickseed sunflower, thistles, New York ironweed, marigold, and asters.
The Sachem Skipper can be found around disturbed, open areas such as roadsides, landfills, pastures, meadows,
fencerows, yards, parks, and lawns.
How To Butterfly Garden
Habitat loss is the number one threat to our native butterfly species. Their life cycle depends on the availability of host
plants, open spaces that aren't sprayed with insecticides, and shelter for chrysalids. Moreover, as adults, butterflies are
flying insects adapted to a large territorial range, if not actual migration. Understanding the needs of butterflies in all
of their stages helps us understand the structure of good habitat and the importance of maintaining it.
While far from an exact science, habitat gardening for butterflies does have a simple, ecological structure and many
avenues that are fascinating to explore. If you are just getting interested, the best way to begin is by watching butterflies.
You can learn a lot simply through observation and imagination. At the same time, start doing little things here and there,
keeping the general guidelines in mind, following the steps below, and paying attention to the details of your garden. You
will be surprised how big the "small world" of butterflies can become.
Don't spray! Butterflies are insects and caterpillars are juvenile butterflies. If they are eating your
plants, it's because they want to fly someday. There are other strategies you can use
to save your plants; see below for ways to avoid insecticides.
Step one: Attracting Butterflies to your garden
- Relax! Many common weeds are host plants for butterfly and moth caterpillars, and often, chrysalids are tucked away
on the branches of nearby shrubs you're about to prune, or in piles of debris you mean to tidy up. Take the time to be
gentle and let nature take its course.
- Observe! Getting to know what your local species look like as eggs, larva (caterpillars),
and pupa (in chrysalis) will help you recognize, protect, and make room for these forms. Watching
to see what places butterflies visit most will show you what to plant more of. Seeing a new species for the first time will
reward your efforts and inspire you to expand.
The most basic way to attract butterflies to your garden is to establish a nectar buffet.
Some plants are more bountiful in nectar, or the access to the nectar is easier for the butterflies.
The Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) and the tall purple blooming Verbina bonariensis
are well known butterfly nectar plants. Both have a long blooming season. Centranthus
and Bidens bloom from early spring until late fall. Providing nectar plants in
the early spring is important for the early emerging Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly and the Monarch and
skippers benefit from the late season October Glory or Bidens.
Step two: Providing for Future Generations
The Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar eats only the California Dutchman's Pipe
(Aristolochia californica). The abundance of this vine on Ms. Hallberg's land, climbing in the buddleia,
on the trellis, or over the shrubs and on fences not seen from the paths, led to large numbers of Pipevine
Swallowtail Butterflies making the rest of the Gardens their home - why go anywhere else? - which, in turn,
inspired Louise to found the Hallberg Butterfly Gardens.
Each species of butterfly has a narrow range of plant species that their caterpillar progeny can eat. Often
this range of "larval host plants" is limited to a few types of a certain genus, and sometimes there is only
a single species of plant that a particular caterpillar depends on for survival. Obviously, it is important
for adult butterflies to have access to these plants in order for successive generations to take hold. If
the host plants aren't there, mother butterflies will go somewhere else, perhaps less safe than your garden,
to lay their eggs. Here are some examples of the close relationship between butterflies and their larval host
plants, followed by a list of host plants for our local Sonoma County caterpillars.
The Monarch caterpillar needs milkweeds (Asclepia spp.). The California native
Asclepia speciosa grows well in this area, but becomes tough and dry very quickly. The tropical
Asclepia currassavica is a good summer-blooming annual. Asclepia incarnata winters over and provides
attractive flowers as well. The tall Asclepia fruticosa (Swan Shrub) provides a lot of food for the
Monarch's very hungry larvae and, while it does not winter over in Graton, this plant does well year-round in
sheltered areas of Sonoma County.
Other caterpillars need weeds such as plantain, fennel, dock, sorrel, wild radish, clovers, cudweeds, and
even thistles. Butterfly gardeners take care to grow weeds among their flowers, either tucking them away in
unvisited corners or happily taking the excuse to let parts of their yard run wild. These weeds will also
point the way to caterpillar populations in vacant lots, open lands, and riparian corridors. Butterfly gardeners
need to be careful, though, so that they do not let invasive weeds travel to sensitive native plant communities
that might be nearby.