One of the truly wonderful aspects of butterfly gardening is that the most effective plants for such are perennials and natives. Key to attracting and providing for the most butterflies possible is to provide attractive plants that actually play roles in providing for local or migrating butterfly populations. Choosing native plants that thrive in the specific type of soil and moisture level your garden offers can be tricky, but two plants that are hosts for two specific butterflies are probably excellent choices for some portion of your butterfly garden: swamp milkweed and wild ginger.
Host Monarchs with Swamp Milkweed
Swamp milkweed is the primary host for the monarch, which makes its migration over thousands of miles every year, and also attracts a wide variety of other butterflies. Proper plants are crucial to the success of this momentous trek, and swamp milkweed, coincidentally, is native to all but seven of the United States of America. Spreading by rhizomes, swamp milkweed produces attractive blooms of white to light pink, grows up to 24 inches high, and produces dense, bushy clusters of both large and multitudinous blooms. Showy and beautiful, swamp milkweed belongs wherever it will thrive since its survival means greater hope for monarch butterflies who accomplish great things for pollination to support a wide variety of gardens, from flower to food and everything in between.
Partial to sun-to-part shade planting, swamp milkweed is true to its name, preferring moist to wet conditions in zones 3-9. Fragrant, these beautiful natives are easy to grow and extremely resilient. Many gardeners laud them as being deer resistant. Although they do attract aphids, their presence in the garden rarely leads to pest infestation as birds, ladybugs, and other predators swoop in to consume the aphids attached to swamp milkweed.
Flowering from June to August, swamp milkweed brings delicate romance to any garden in the potentially brutal heat of summer. Even gardens that are not particularly moist might benefit from the attractive qualities of swamp milkweed if clay is present in the soil and more frequent watering may be done.
Host Pipeline Swallowtails with Wild Ginger
While swamp milkweed grows to showy heights, wild ginger is a low growing ground cover, often growing to 1” or below but sometimes reaching 6”. Producing unusual and primeval looking blooms of maroon to brown, wild ginger prefers sandy, loamy, clay soils in dry to moist conditions. Often growing on gentle woodland slopes, wild ginger thrives in partial sun to full shade. Blooming in April and May, wild ginger is an early pollen and nectar provider. Furthermore, pipeline swallowtails depend on it as one of two host plants.
Thriving from zones 3-8, wild ginger spreads by rhizome, producing heart-shaped leaves year round. Often used as a substitute for Jamaican ginger. wild ginger is purported to have many herbal benefits and is used as a spice, expectorant, heart erythema remedy, and a component of anti-inflammation salves.
Including each of these plants in your butterfly garden ensures that at least two lovely lepidopterist specimens will find their way to your home: monarch and pipeline swallowtail. Meanwhile, layering for height, bloom season, and color creates a naturally pleasing anesthetic.