Garden varieties: How attractive are recommended garden plants to butterflies?

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Shackleton, Kyle ; Ratnieks, Francis L. W. (2016)

One way the public can engage in insect conservation is through wildlife gardening, including the growing of insect-friendly flowers as sources of nectar. However, plant varieties differ in the types of insects they attract. To determine which garden plants attracted which butterflies, we counted butterflies nectaring on 11 varieties of summer-flowering garden plants in a rural garden in East Sussex, UK. These plants were all from a list of 100 varieties considered attractive to British butterflies, and included the five varieties specifically listed by the UK charity Butterfly Conservation as best for summer nectar. A total of 2659 flower visits from 14 butterfly and one moth species were observed. We performed a principal components analysis which showed contrasting patterns between the species attracted to Origanum vulgare and Buddleia davidii. The “butterfly bush” Buddleia attracted many nymphalines, such as the peacock, Inachis io, but very few satyrines such as the gatekeeper, Pyronia tithonus, which mostly visited Origanum. Eupatorium cannibinum had the highest Simpson’s Diversity score of 0.75, while Buddleia and Origanum were lower, scoring 0.66 and 0.50 respectively. No one plant was good at attracting all observed butterfly species, as each attracted only a subset of the butterfly community. We conclude that to create a butterfly-friendly garden, a variety of plant species are required as nectar sources for butterflies. Furthermore, garden plant recommendations can probably benefit from being more precise as to the species of butterfly they attract.
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