1051 State Route 56 East,
Circleville, Ohio 43113

Phone: 740-474-2028

Toll Free: 800-378-8934

A big picture plan for attracting and sustaining butterflies

You remember ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar,’ the children’s book by author and illustrator, Eric Carle? It’s the story of the insatiable caterpillar who eats his way to a tummy ache and an amazing transformation.

We’ve known that caterpillars must munch their way to metamorphosis, but somehow, we seem to have overlooked the idea that caterpillars are baby butterflies.

Hungry little butterfly babies.

We’re a mission to rebrand the caterpillar. Because somewhere along the way, many of us have forgotten that not only do butterflies feed on the nectar of colorful blooms, they must also lay their eggs on host plants their babies will eat. If there are no host plants, there are no butterfly babies.

The Catch?

Host plants will be eaten. Once the butterfly lays its eggs, it takes approximately 2-2 ½ weeks for them hatch and to eat their way to the chrysalis stage. So, while caterpillars grow, the plants you buy will be chewed up and virtually disappear. (What?) This seems counterintuitive to everything you’ve learned about gardening and growing, right? But there are so many reasons to plant for caterpillars:

It supports ecological diversity. Which means we have livelier, healthier backyards, neighborhoods, cities and beyond. Everything is connected in the food chain and circle of life.

Pollinators like butterflies are responsible for up to a third of all the food we eat, 80% of flowering plants, cleaner air, water and a more robust economy. This one’s for the bottom-line folks who act on data. It’s all there.

They’re beautiful. I think we can all agree it’s a thrill to see a butterfly and, with a little bit of background and context, a thrill to see caterpillars snacking on your plants.

We also have a few tricks you can use to create a lively and beautiful butterfly garden, half-eaten leaves and all.

Caterpillar Candy Has Entered the Chat

Caterpillar Candy, a new line of host plants native to Ohio, are chosen especially for their ability to feed caterpillars. Butterflies lay their eggs on native host plants that will provide sustenance for their hungry babies.

Look for ‘Caterpillar Candy’ and butterfly signs to point you in the right direction. Here’s some of what you’ll find:

  • Milkweed (multiple varieties)
  • Orange Coneflower
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Common Mallow
  • New England Aster

You’ve provided nourishment for the babies and are helping them navigate their transformation. Once they’ve finished feeding from the host plants, they’ll wander off to find a safe spot from predators.

The process of creating a chrysalis varies slightly from species to species, but the caterpillar will shed its skin one last time (it molts multiple times throughout its life as it grows) to reveal its chrysalis. The chrysalis starts out soft, then slowly hardens as a form of protection.

The Transformation

What happens inside the chrysalis is remarkable. The caterpillar does not build a chrysalis as much as it reassembles its body. This complete metamorphosis takes approximately 1-2 weeks.

“Think of it as recycling—if you drop a plastic bottle off in the recycling bin, it can be melted down into an entirely different shape. This is what happens inside the chrysalis. Much of the body breaks itself down into imaginal cells, which are undifferentiated—like stem cells, they can become any type of cell. The imaginal cells put themselves back together into a new shape.” AnimalsHowStuffWorks.com

Host Plants for Butterflies and other Pollinators

Once butterflies emerge, they hang onto the chrysalis for a few minutes to expel excess fluid and allow their wings to harden enough for flying.

As they flutter off, they will find a mate and the process will begin again. Which makes the case for planting your Caterpillar Candy near your pollinator friendly plants for a fully sustainable butterfly garden.

This also makes it possible to have an aesthetically pleasing area by camouflaging your munched on host plants (if you like) with blooming, butterfly and pollinator-friendly plants, including:

Agastache Kudos Mandarin (perennial)

Swamp Milkweed (perennial)

Monarda Bubblegum Blast (perennial)

Monarda Pardon My Purple (perennial)

Buddleia Monarch Blue Knight (perennial)

Butterfly Weed (perennial)

WHEN IN SEASON

Lantana Luscious Berry Blend (annual)

Vermillionaire Firecracker Plant (annual)

Rockin’ Salvia Fuchsia (annual)

 

We hope you have fun with this! Thank you for playing a part in something special and bigger than all of us.

Have questions or want to know more about Caterpillar Candy and creating your own butterfly garden, big or small? Please stop in or give us a call at (740)474-2028.

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