Presentation discusses what to feed your butterflies

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Colchester - posted Wed., May. 1, 2013
Horticulturist Rose Hiskes gave a talk at Cragin Memorial Library about butterflies and caterpillars commonly found in the state. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.
Horticulturist Rose Hiskes gave a talk at Cragin Memorial Library about butterflies and caterpillars commonly found in the state. Photos by Brenda Sullivan.

When most of us talk about creating a butterfly garden, we tend to envision these beautiful creatures flitting from one colorful flower to another, sipping nectar. But a butterfly garden is a little more complicated than this, as the audience at Cragin Memorial Library learned at a talk given on April 25 by entomologist Rose Hiskes.

The best butterfly garden should include plants that provide a good spot for laying eggs, food for the larvae when it hatches and lots of “landing pads” and nectar for the adult butterflies, she explained. To illustrate this concept, Hiskes showed slides of the Bird and Butterfly Garden at the Lockwood Farm – a 75-acre research farm – in Hamden, Conn., which is a collaborative project of The Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut, Spring Glen Garden Club Hamden and The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station where Hiskes is employed.

This garden includes more than 60 species of annuals, perennials and wood plants that provide food for larval and adult butterflies.

The garden also includes a water source. Butterflies prefer shallow areas. “The males need the minerals found in shallow water and mud to become reproductively mature,” Hiskes said. Clustering by the water is known as “puddling.”

When planning a butterfly garden, it’s also important to have lots of sunshine because butterflies are cold-blooded creatures. It’s the warmth of the sun that allows them fly. “They cannot fly until their internal temperature is at least 80 degrees,” Hiskes said.

Placing white rocks along the water source will radiate heat, she added.

There are 117 different kinds of butterflies that have been identified in Connecticut, Hiskes said, and one of the first steps toward welcoming them into your yard is to educate yourself about what their eggs, chrysalis and caterpillar forms look like.

One of the differences between butterflies and moths is that butterflies lay their eggs singly, while moths lay their eggs in clusters – something to be aware of when inspecting the underside of a plant’s leaves.

Hiskes showed slides of a wide variety of butterfly caterpillars, whose forms ranged from brightly striped to fuzzy creatures. What most have in common, she pointed out, are fleshy prolegs with hooks at their base, known as “crochets.”

“If you recognize that these are the ones that are going to become caterpillars, you are less likely to squish them,” she said.

Some caterpillars have “stinging” hairs, she added, “so, it’s best to keep them on the twig or plant.”

Hiskes also warned that using pesticides in the garden will kill butterflies, along with the undesirable insects. And choosing “bug free” plants will also repel butterflies.

Hiskes recommended several guides, some of which are on Cragin Library’s shelves.

Her suggestions include “Caterpillars of Eastern North America,” “The Family Butterfly Book” and “The Connecticut Butterfly Atlas.”

When it comes to providing food for the butterflies, “think native plants,” Hiskes said. The butterfly bush (Buddleia) is commonly found in butterfly gardens, but they can become invasive, she warned. (

Other good choices are the cone flower (Echinacea) and zinnias. And gardeners should “think in terms of a succession of bloom, from spring through summer into fall,” she said.

One of the more common types of butterflies in Connecticut are the Skippers (Hesperiidae) which have “furry” bodies and so, can be confused with moths.

If you notice some of your plants have folded leaves, they may be sheltering the larvae of the Crossline Skipper.

The Common Sooty Wing Skipper produces pale green larvae that eat pigweed and lambsquarters, weeds that gardeners often pull up. “Consider leaving a weedy patch in the corner of your garden or somewhere in your yard, if you want to attract this butterfly,” Hiskes said.

The Lockwood Farm garden at 890 Evergreen Ave. (off Route 10) is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Plant Science Day, which begins at 9 a.m., will be held at the farm on Aug. 7 and will include speakers, exhibits, opportunities to speak with researchers and tours. For more information, call the farm at 203-974-8618.

To learn more about the butterfly species found in Connecticut, visit

For more information about butterfly gardens visit .

Let us know what you think!
Please be as specific as possible.
Include your name and email if you would like a response back.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the code without spaces and pay attention to upper/lower case.