Bringing Butterflies To Your Garden

Many visitors to the Ramsgate Butterfly Sanctuary - have asked about - bringing butterflies to your garden. For most people this seemed to be a problem as it was not clear as to how one should go about it.
There is now 1065 butterfly species in South Africa of which about a hundred are not recognized officially. Of these butterflies there are 298 known butterfly host plants. This shows that many of the host plants of many butterflies are not known to anyone yet. The main reason for this is that you have more people collecting butterflies than there are breeders of our species. Before one just runs off to a nursery for butterfly friendly plants and host plants, it is advisable to contact someone who has a good knowledge of butterflies and their host plants. This person or organization should be invited to your garden to see what your requirements are and how they would suit the butterflies that you intend to bring to your garden. From this you will establish, just what local butterflies there are in your area and which of the host plants you need for your garden. You will also then be informed as to where certain host plants can be established without major changes taking place in you garden. In this way you can cater for different insects, birds and butterflies.
Bringing nature and especially butterflies to your garden, increases the survival rate of many of our species, with many people like yourselves we will be able to relocate even the rarer butterflies to specially selected gardens that would be the perfect place for them. Having a rare and endangered species of butterfly in your garden creates a high level of interest from many of your neighbors, who in turn develop an interest in butterflies that creates an awareness of the butterflies’ plight. Eventually this interest will get other neighbors of yours to become involved even in some small way, by developing small areas of their gardens for butterflies. By doing this you are contributing to the Conservation of Butterflies in South Africa.

How to introduce host plants to your garden
Introducing trees, nettles, shrubs, feeding flowers or creepers, are essential to any butterfly species and has to be carefully planned. Tree nettles and creeper nettles can be planted along fences and in corners of the fenced area of the property. There are many butterflies using these plants as host plants and they fly generally throughout the year. But there are other uses for these plants as well. Plant them in areas where the property is in danger of uninvited guests. No one would climb your fences or fence corners where these plants are planted. It can be a terrifying experience for burglars and other unwanted guests.
The first essential process of developing a butterfly garden is to establish a few facts. Armed with this information will allow you the correct route to follow in choosing your plants and butterflies effectively, without any disappointment. What you need to find out is the following;

  • How much of this space is utilized by buildings?
  • How much of the remainder of the property should be left for grass / lawns?
  • What is left, that is identifiable for gardens?
  • The area’s left, are they in shaded or sunlit areas?
  • How much sun, will the sunlit areas have during the day in summer and in winter?
  • How much shade, will the shaded areas have during the day in summer and in winter?
  • How many different butterfly species would you like in these gardens?

Armed with the answers to these questions, one can begin to present some kind of plan for your intended butterfly garden. Remembering that each province is different from the next. Butterflies can now be selected along with their host plants for your particular needs and the needs of your climatic conditions and environment that will not clash with the bio-diversity of your area. An advantage to the butterfly gardener is that many areas have butterflies that are endemic to their areas. These should be considered as part of your garden.
Selecting butterfly species from areas that are totally different from your area, will only be considered as wanton killing of butterflies. Butterflies that are not found in your area, means that they could not survive there, unless they are protected in Lepidomes. This could be costly, and you will need professionals to help you set this up. Rather remain with your local butterflies, as they are also unique and not found in other areas.

The plan
Assessing all the information you have received so far, allows you to make reasonable plans to develop your butterfly garden. In this process the sun has a big influence. Using the sun you can mark out the kind of garden, nature will allow you to have. Now one can plan just where the trees can be planted, the shrubs, grasses and flowers that will feed the butterflies the nectars they need. For the bigger butterfly species that are tree toppers, one should also plant fruit trees, such as lemon, guava, banana and peach. As many of these butterflies prefer to feed on fruits and not flowers. Grasses are also important, the browns or hoppers breed on different grass species. These butterflies are referred to at times as the twilight browns, meaning that they enjoy flying at twilight time. The more different things that you plant would mean getting a wider variety of butterflies in your garden. Planning your garden now becomes fun.

Host plants and habitats;
A host plant (also referred to as food plant) is the plant on which the female butterfly lays her eggs and which serves as a source of food for the developing larvae. Host plants are as diversified and various as the butterflies that exist. In general, each butterfly species has a single host plant; quite a few species though, do breed and feed on more than one species of plant. An obvious relationship exists between food plants and butterflies. Butterfly species that have more than one food plant, or feed on food plants that occur in abundance or have a wide-ranging distribution, are more common and/or widely distributed. Species that feed on rare host plants, or those that occur in specific habitats will form isolated colonies in specific locations.
Butterflies are known to breed on a variety of grasses, weeds, shrubs, large trees and even parasitic plants such as the mistletoe, which depends on its host for water and minerals. Finding the host plant of a species of butterfly is relatively easy; following a female, at a discreet distance, will eventually lead you to the food plant. Depending on the species, host plants, and therefore butterflies, can be found in a variety of habitats such as forests, wetlands, and mountainous areas and along river banks, savannahs, grasslands, etc.
Successful breeding and survival of a species is dependent on (or relative to) the success of the habitat in meeting the species’ unique requirements. These requirements include an adequate food supply and appropriate climate. For example, a forest fire could lead to the destruction of rare host plants, and the elimination of the food supply, which in turn will result in the extinction of the butterfly species that breed and feed on these plants. Through the process of adaptation, some of the very common and widely distributed butterflies are able to feed on different types of food plants and survive in dissimilar climatic conditions.
A perfect example of the adaptability of some species would be Pierus brassicae, commonly referred to as the cabbage butterfly. Although native to Europe and North America, this butterfly has been found flying in Nepal, Canary Islands, Chile in South America, Sudan and South Africa. It has achieved a remarkable success in survival and reproduction.

How to plant your plants
Firstly, you should have reasonably good compost, which can be bought at any nursery. But the best compost is home made. All the grass cuttings that you have collected from mowing the lawn and any other vegetation matter that you have from trimming trees or shrubs is important. Find as much indigenous bark as you can and mix into the vegetation matter you have collected. Put all these in a heap somewhere and cover with some soil. Wet from time to time with water. The compost mixture will start decaying and cause tremendous heat within itself. Plants thrive on this form of compost and many nutrients and fungus chemicals are released. The bark releases many forms of iron chemicals to enrich the compost.
Use this compost when replanting plants in your garden, by simply placing some of this compost in the hole you have made for the planting. The compost must be at least 100 mm thick. Place the plant on top of this compost and cover the remaining hole with soil. Water only every second day for two weeks. Do not water the plant as it can drown.

Introducing the butterfly
Butterflies will find the host plants of their own accord. Just be patient and soon you will see your garden attracting more and more butterflies.

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From Our Gallery


Welcome to S.A Butterflies

A place for rare butterflies to be and to be protected as they are extremely rare. Only a few have ever been caught - but through our breeding program we have been able to breed over one hundred and have released them back into the wild. Thanks to the dedication of a few who cared for their survival - a very rare butterfly - has been described.