Monthly Archives: February 2014

Butterflies in Small Gardens

By Mark Thomas

Common brown (male)butterfly feeding on nectar of Senecio odoratus

Common brown (male)butterfly feeding on nectar of Senecio odoratus

Attracting butterflies to your garden, particularly native Australian species can be very rewarding and take little effort. With a little planning and an understanding of the butterflies needs you can attract butterflies to live and reproduce in your garden instead of being an occasional visitor. It is important to stress here that the larval stage of butterflies or caterpillar will feed on plants in your garden leaving chewed leaves and “damage’ to plants. Some grazing will have to be tolerated if butterflies are to proliferate in your garden.

Incorporate some locally indigenous plant species in your garden as sources of nectar and host plants or food for the caterpillars, these may be on separate plant species and can sometimes be very specific. A diversity of plants with different flowering times throughout spring to autumn are the best way to attract a wide range of butterflies.

Grass areas that are a little neglected and un-mowed can be beneficial to some butterflies, especially native species such as: Microlaena stipoides var. stipoides, Themeda triandra, Austrodanthonia species and Poa species.  Grasses can be valuable food and habitat for the caterpillars that will eat the leaves.

Some open areas for the butterflies to warm up in sun with rocks or paving to allow them to absorb the heat from surfaces. When designing gardens for butterflies, large unprotected areas of paving should be avoided.

Some shade or dappled light, this can be supplied by nectar plants that will also produce shelter.

A source of water, particularly ponds, dams, water- bowls or frog ponds allow the butterflies to drink or cool down when temperatures exceed 35o c. Sedges can be incorporated into wet areas as many native species perform the role of host plants and look great.

Consider adding extra layers of vegetation to gardens that lack understorey. Gardens with only trees and shrubs would benefit from groundcovers and grasses as well as appear more natural.

Below are two short lists of plants to try in your garden, however there are many others to add.

Shrubs/ groundcovers for butterflies (nectar):

  • Acacia species –most
  • Atriplex species- most
  • Bursaria spinosa
  • Cullen australasicum
  • Goodenia species-most
  • Hardenbergia violacea
  • Indigofera australis
  • Myoporum species -most
  • Swainsona formosa
  • Templetonia retusa

Shrubs/ groundcovers to host caterpillars:

  • Adriana quadripartita
  • Chrysocephalum apiculatum
  • Eutaxia microphylla
  • Kennedia prostrata
  • Rhagodia candolleana ssp.candolleana
  • Scaevola species- most
  • Senna artemisiodes ssp. coriacea


Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden, What to grow and Conserve in the Adelaide Region” Hunt, L , Grund, R, Keane, D & Forrest,J 2007.