How to grow a butterfly garden

They are easy to have and maintain, provided you stick to the green side
How to grow a butterfly garden

BENGALURU: Would you like to have a cloud of butterflies greet you every morning? You can plan a garden that invites these fluttering wings. We ask Vandana Krishnamurthy, co founder at The UrbanMali Network, how to plant a butterfly garden.

“The idea is not to trap the butterflies there,” she says. “The idea is to help the butterflies visit the plants. If you grow plants that attract the butterflies, that makes a butterfly garden. People sometimes place a net on top thinking butterflies will have ample space beneath it. That is actually wrong. Butterflies are free-flying insects. Many of them are migratory. You're trifling with Nature by trapping butterflies.”


Host Plants
Have flowers because butterflies only lay eggs on plants that produce nectar. These 'host' plants, mostly flowering variety, provide them with food. "There are also butterflies that lay eggs on certain plants alone,” she says. “The Lime butterfly (Papilio demoleusonly) lays its eggs on lemon or curry leaves." Butterflies come all year round but there is one species called the The Blue Tiger (Tirumala limniace), which tends to migrate.

Vandana says that a butterfly garden must be free of nets, chemicals and pesticides. "If you keep out the butterflies using nets, then they will not return because they cannot get to the nectar,” she says. “Chemicals fertiliser and pesticides keep them away too. Butterflies and other insects are harmed by their use.” Butterfly gardens must, therefore, use only organic pesticides. Also, use native plants because they do not require chemical help. “Exotic plants need chemicals,” says  Vandana.  

Catch the Beady Eye
Certain features of plants attract butterflies. "They are drawn to pink or red flowers, also the large ones because they can land on them easily,” says Vandana. There are certain markings on flowers which are like beacons. "They are called 'nectar guides', which tell the insects that there is food in these plants. The plant too knows that it has to have a flower that catches the butterfly’s interest, perfected after years of evolution," says Vandana. Butterfly gardens are where you can see the benefits of Nature-designed,  plant-animal interaction. The butterfly's proboscis, which is used to pick nectar from the flower, also carries the plant’s pollen and completes the process of pollination.  

‘High’ on Alkaloids
When plants have no nectar, Nature has other devices. “One classic example is the Crotalaria Retusa. It is commonly called a rattle pod,” says Vandana.

“This plant doesn't have nectar to attract the butterflies. The butterflies sits on the leaves of the plant which contains a certain alkaloid. This alkaloid ingested by the butterfly  gives it a 'high'. It induces a drug-like effect in the butterflies and they get stuck on to the plants. On an average, this plant may  have nearly 50-60 butterflies stuck on it. This plant is native to South Indian cities.” 

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