Pollinator of the Week: Butterflies

To celebrate the upcoming 2021 National Pollinator Week, June 21st - 27th, we are celebrating our favorite pollinators and plants that help the world go-round. 

Butterflies are some of the most important pollinators that we have on earth. These fluttering creatures are responsible for a huge part of wildflower pollination worldwide and are also absolutely beautiful to look at. Beyond pollinating, butterflies have incredibly interesting abilities and a transformative life cycle.



There are approximately 55 different species of butterflies in Virginia. You can find these heat-loving insects flitting about bright-colored blooms during a windless summer day. Since they do much of their pollinating and eating of nectar during the day hours, they rest exclusively at night when the temperatures are cooler. Butterflies can only fly if their body temperature is above 86 degrees Fahrenheit. To keep up their energy to fly, they must drink nectar regularly throughout the day. They use their long, tube-shaped mouths called proboscis to slurp up the nectar from each flower they visit. When they are done drinking, they curl their mouths up into a spiral so it doesn’t get in the way as they fly. 

Butterflies can sense things through more than just their mouths. Butterflies have kaleidoscope-like eyes and can see a range of ultraviolet colors that are unseen to humans. To find nectar and other sugars to eat, they sense through their antennae and feet! Their feet can sense a chemical “smell” of sorts which can indicate whether they have landed on something supper-worthy.

Butterfly wings are also particularly special because even though they look light and airy, they are a part of the butterflies exoskeleton. These exoskeletons are similar to what crabs and beetles have. Butterfly wings can also be tools of deception, whether they are made for camouflage or in bright colors made to look like predators, their wings are used for so much more than just getting them around to all the nectar.



Before butterflies have their recognizable wings, they start off as eggs laid on the leaf of a host plant. They hatch as larvae (or caterpillars) and will eat the leaves and flowers of its host plant the entire time it is a caterpillar. Once the caterpillar reaches a big enough size, it will create a protective shell around itself and will turn into a chrysalis. A caterpillar can be in a chrysalis anywhere between a week and 3 weeks depending on the species. Once the waiting period is over, the once caterpillar will emerge from the chrysalis as a butterfly!



Host plants are a type of plant the butterflies need in order to lay their eggs on and provide food for young insects. The most commonly thought of host plant for butterflies is milkweed. This plant is the only plant that monarch butterflies can lay their eggs on. More common host plants are actually plants you can expect to see in almost any vegetable garden.


Here’s some great host plant recommendations for your butterfly garden with the type of butterflies they attract:

• Milkweed (Monarch Butterfly)

• Dill (Black Swallowtail Butterfly)

• Carrots (Black Swallowtail Butterfly)

• Fennel (Black Swallowtail Butterfly)

• Cabbage (Cabbage White Butterfly)

• Broccoli (Cabbage White Butterfly)

• Cauliflower (Cabbage White Butterfly)

• Mustard (Cabbage White Butterfly)


Nectar plants are flowering plants that butterflies need to feed on. Butterflies love brightly-colored flowers and the bounty of nectar that these plants provide. Planting a variety of nectar plants can ensure a diverse range of pollinators to visit your garden, including butterflies. 


Here’s some great nectar plant recommendations for your butterfly garden:

• Marigolds

• Butterfly bush

• Azaleas

• Lilac

• Pentas

• Zinnias

• Lantana

• Verbena

• Coneflowers

• Bee balm

• Salvia

• Asters

• Petunias


We recommend using a few different types of host plants and nectar plants to maximize your butterfly garden’s potential. By the end of the season, your host plants should be eaten by caterpillars, and your nectar plants should keep those young butterflies fed!

Continue the journey of learning about pollinators next week with a blog on the all time favorite pollinator: bees! For now, check out our Pollinator Week Handbook here for information on all pollinators, plants, and our best products for them.