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Friday - July 10, 2009

From: New Braunfels, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens
Title: Butterfly and medicinal plants for New Braunfels
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I am in zip code 78132 and we just put in a garden at our front steps- so my choices for plants need to fill a need for beauty and function. I want to include plants that will host and feed butterflies out here. any suggestions? If I also want them to bloom for awhile and look good for more than a few months, does that make it harder? Do butterflies happen to like any medicinal plants as well?

ANSWER:

Addressing one of your questions on having the plants in your new garden bloom for a long time, there are a few that do, and possibly some of them will attract butterflies. The problem with a plant being long-blooming is that, while they must bloom in order to set seed and propagate themselves, blooming takes an enormous amount of energy out of a plant. For instance, Agave americana (American century plant) doesn't actually take 100 years to bloom, but it usually is from 10 to 40 years before it puts up a spectacular stalk of flowers. They last a couple months and then the whole plant dies. In the desert environment in which the century plant lives, it takes many years to store up the energy for that one blooming, and totally exhausts the plant's resources. On the other hand,  Leucophyllum frutescens (Texas barometer bush) will, depending on rainfall, bloom intermittently all year long. 

Now, since your question is pretty complex, and we really don't know if you need sun or shade, how much room you have or what, allow us to introduce you to our Native Plants Database. We will give you a few examples of our suggestions, but you can find so many more and answer other questions you will think of as you look at possibilities. Since we also don't know how experienced a gardener you are, we suggest you read a few of our How-To Articles that will help you get started: A Guide to Native Plant Gardening and Butterfly Gardening will do for starters. If you would like to look at our other How-To Articles, just click on How To Articles under Explore Plants.

Now, go to our Recommended Species section, also under Explore Plants. On that page, you will find a list of collections of plants. Go to the Special Collection Butterflies and Moths of North America, where you will get a list of 353 possibilities for plants that attract butterflies or serve as larval hosts. To narrow down that list, go to the column on the right-hand side of that page, Narrow Your Search. On the drop-down menu "Select State or Province" select Texas, then click on the Narrow Your Search box at the bottom of the column. Now you have a list of 193 plants native to Texas that are butterfly plants. 

Another way to approach this search is to go to Recommended Specis, but this time click on Central Texas on the map. Under Narrow Your Search, you can select "herbs" (herbaceous blooming plants), "shrubs" or "trees" under Habit. You can also indicate your Light Requirements in this search. We consider "sun" to be six hours or more of sun daily, "part shade" 2 to 6 hours of sun daily, and "shade" less than 2 hours of sun daily. For our example, we chose "herbs" and shade or part shade. When we did this, we got 39 possbilities of blooming plants for Central Texas. From these, we chose four that fit your specifications. You find out all about these plants by following the plant link, and going to the webpage for each plant. Under "Growing Conditions" you will learn what kind of soil this plant does best in, how much water it needs, and sun requirements. Under "Benefits" you will find out what wildlife this plant attracts and whether it has medicinal properties. Be sure to read all the cautions about poisonous plants, which many of the medicinal plants are. 

Herbaceous Blooming Plants for Central Texas

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed) - perennial, 1 to 3 ft. tall, blooms orange, yellow May to September, sun or part shade, has medicinal uses and is larval host to Monarch and Queen butterflies

Callirhoe involucrata (purple poppymallow) - perennial, up to 1 ft. tall, evergreen, blooms white, pink, purple March to June, sun or part shade, medicinal uses, larval host for Gray Hairstreak butterfly

Echinacea purpurea (eastern purple coneflower) - perennial, 2 to 5 ft. tall, blooms pink, purple April to September, sun or part shade, attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, has medicinal uses

Lobelia cardinalis (cardinalflower) - 1 to 6 ft. perennial, blooms red May to October, sun, part shade or shade, attracts hummingbirds, medicinal uses

Now, we'll list four shrubs and let you find their webpages by following the plant link, and learn what they can do for you. Then, you can strike out on your own, picking and choosing what works for you.

Shrubs for Central Texas

Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry)

Chrysactinia mexicana (damianita)

Leucophyllum frutescens (Texas barometer bush)

Senna lindheimeriana (velvet leaf senna)

 

 

 

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