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Wednesday - May 28, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens
Title: Butterfly garden in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I am located in North Central Austin, and just bought a house with a large back yard. One half is shade-part sun, and the other half is full sun. The shade from three large (55-60) foot trees. I am planning for two beds, focusing on butterfly nectar/larvae food plants. One bed will be part sun/understory and the other a full sun bed, both will be quite large. I have completed an obnoxious amount of research, and I am still wallowing in all the possibilities. What would be your number one, lesser known shade/part sun and full sun plant, that you think is a must have for the Austin area butterfly garden? What would be your top choice for a shade garden and then your top choice for the full sun? The plants I have at this time...sorry about the listing: buddleia, pipevines, passiflora, lantana, redbud, mex plum, mex tarragon, mex petunia, blackfoot daisies, zinnia/pentas, butterfly weed, turks caps, columbine, Texas frogfuit. coneflowers, daisies. They will get a medium amount of water. The soil is clay/loamy, but the shade part has much more humus (leaves collecting there at the fenceline). Any suggestions are appreciated. Thanks for your time!


You have exciting plans and I'm sure the butterflies, as well as other pollinators, bees and hummingbirds, are looking forward to seeing them completed. Because your question is kind of complex, we're going to answer it in pieces. First, if you haven't already read them, please read our How-To Article on A Guide to Native Plant Gardening. Plants native to North America and to the area in which they are being grown is what we're all about at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Next, take a look at the excellent article Butterfly Gardening. This article mentions 6 plants that are especially good for our area. Then, see the 355 suggested native plants in Butterflies and Moths of North America from our Special Collections in Recommended Species. You can "Narrow Your Search" and select for sun/shade, type of soil. Read the links for amount of water needed, propagation instructions, etc.

Next, let's talk about the specific plants you are considering. We're going to take your list and indicate the natives, and add what information we have about the others.

Buddleja. The North American natives of this are Buddleja marrubiifolia (woolly butterflybush) native to Southern Trans-Pecos and Mexico, Buddleja racemosa (wand butterflybush) native to Texas, Buddleja scordioides (escobilla butterflybush) native to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and Buddleja sessiliflora (Rio Grande butterflybush) Arizona and Texas.

Buddleia. Buddleja Davidii is the botanical name for this plant, originating in China and Japan. Most of the plants in commercial trade by the name "butterfly bush" are cultivars of this non-native.

Pipevine. Aristolochia macrophylla (pipevine), native to North America, but not ordinarily found as far west as Texas, considered a damp woods plant. Aristolochia reticulata (Texas dutchman's pipe), Aristolochia erecta (swanflower), and Aristolochia serpentaria (Virginia snakeroot) are all native to Texas.

Aristolachia elegans , also called pipevine, but a native of South America, Brazil.

Passiflora. Passiflora affinis (bracted passionflower), Passiflora foetida (fetid passionflower) , Passiflora foetida var. gossypiifolia (cottonleaf passionflower), Passiflora incarnata (purple passionflower) , Passiflora lutea (yellow passionflower) and Passiflora tenuiloba (birdwing passionflower) are all native to Texas, and all attractive to butterflies. Some can be somewhat invasive.

Lantana. Lantana urticoides (West Indian shrubverbena) is native to Texas. The last couple of times we recommended lantana, we got called on the carpet by someone on the other end of the computer line for recommending a plant that either had poisonous berries (which is true), or that is invasive (which is also true, but more usually in hybrids.) However, the butterflies (and the hummingbirds) do adore this plant.

Redbud. Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud), Cercis canadensis var. mexicana (Mexican redbud) , and Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud) are all native to Texas and have nectar attractive to pollinators.

Mexican Plum.Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum) attracts birds, and is a nectar source and larval host for butterflies.

Mexican Tarragon. Tageta lucida is not a native of North America, but rather of Guatemala and the Mexican state of Oaxaca; furthermore, we found no particular mention of it as a butterfly plant.

Blackfoot daisy. Melampodium leucanthum (plains blackfoot) is a native of Texas, and is considered both a nectar and seed source for butterflies and birds.

Zinnia. Zinnia acerosa (desert zinnia), Zinnia anomala (shortray zinnia), and Zinnia grandiflora (Rocky Mountain zinnia) are all native to Texas. Many of the vari-colored plants in the commercial trade are hybrids or selections from the native plants. They are pollen and nectar sources for pollinators.

Penta. Pentas lanceolata is thought to have originated in Africa. Very attractive to hummingbirds.

Butterfly weed. There are 36 species of the Asclepias genus native to North America, all of which are considered attractive to butterflies and larval hosts. Native to Texas are Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed), Asclepias asperula (spider milkweed) , Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed), Asclepias lanceolata (fewflower milkweed) , Asclepias latifolia (broadleaf milkweed), Asclepias linearis (slim milkweed), Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed), Asclepias texana (Texas milkweed), Asclepias variegata (redring milkweed and Asclepias viridiflora (green comet milkweed).

Turk's Cap. Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii (wax mallow) attracts birds, butterflies and hummingbirds. It will grow in shade or sun (prefers shade), but can be invasive.

Columbine. Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana (Hinckley's golden columbine) is native to Texas and attracts hummingbirds and butterflies; does well in partial shade.

Texas frogfruit. Phyla nodiflora (turkey tangle fogfruit) is a nectar source for butterflies and a good sun to part shade groundcover.

Coneflowers.Echinacea purpurea (eastern purple coneflower) attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, good for sun to part shade, perennial.

Daisies. Do you have any idea how many flowers have "daisy" in their name? Sixty-seven in our Native Plant Database alone, not to mention many, many more non-natives. Let's don't even go there.

Not on your list, but a couple of favorites of ours are Monarda didyma (scarlet beebalm) and Rudbeckia hirta (blackeyed Susan) which also happen to be on the list in the above-mentioned article on Butterfly Gardening. Top of the list personal favorite: Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed).







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