Do you want to bring in more butterflies to YOUR garden?
Most new gardeners understand the part about adding nectar plants to attract butterflies to the garden. The brightly colored flowers are fun to grow, and attract even more color though butterflies. But to have a butterfly habitat, one must also sustain the butterflies, as well. “To fully sustain a habitat, you should grow more than nectar-rich plants; you should also grow the host plants of the butterflies you are trying to attract,” says Helen Yoest, Director of Bee Better, Inc., located in Raleigh, NC.
A butterfly host plant is a plant that is often very specific to each butterfly. Butterflies will lay their eggs on the plant that is the food source of their young, Eggs are laid on the host plant, so when the the larva emerges, they are already at the dinner table. The classic example is the host plant for the Monarch butterfly. The only genius a Monarch butterfly will use as a host plant is Asclepias sp. or commonly known as milkweed. No milkweed, no Monarch eggs will be laid. No larvae, fewer Monarch butterflies. You may still have adult Monarchs visit your flowers, but if your garden can’t sustain their complete life-cycle of egg, larvae, chrysalis, and adult, the Monarchs you see will only be passing visitors. Simply put, without host plants, you will have fewer butterflies.
Plant parsley if you want to sustain the Eastern Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes on the east coast or the Anise Swallowtail, Papilio zelicaon on the west coast.
Name: Common parsley, curly, Petroselinium crispum
Zones: 3 – 9
Size: 12 to 18-inches, tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun to some light shade. Biennial, can be used as an annual in colder areas.
Common parsley is a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae), native to the Mediterranean. A biennial (living for two seasons; seeding the second year) but it can also be grown as an annual. As with most herbs, parsley will perform best in a sunny location, receiving 6–8 hours of direct sunlight a day. Parsley can also tolerate some shade. As one might suspect, given its mediterranean origin, parsley prefers well-drained soil with a pH range of 6.0–7.0.
Planted as an edging or bedding plant, parsley is an unexpected addition giving foil for annuals such as begonias and petunias.
PARSLEY AS A HOST BUTTERFLY PLANT
Parsley is the host plant for the Eastern Black Swallowtail. Out west, parsley is also the host plant for the Anise Swallowtail. Both of these swallowtails use other plants as host plants. But since the focus of this series is plant-specific, I’m only highlighting the butterflies that use parsley as a host plant.
“After visiting my garden, Helen’s Haven, a friend was amazed at all the different butterflies in the garden that day,” Helen shares. “Excited about beginning his own butterfly garden, he asked where to begin. Instead of weighing him down with a myriad of information about host plants, nectar plants, food, water, and cover, I told him to simply start by planting parsley. My friend already had plenty of nectar plants since he was an ornamental gardener. What he lacked were host plants. Parsley is an excellent choice to bring in the Black Swallowtails quickly.”
“A couple of months later, when I saw him again, I asked how his butterfly garden was coming along? Do you have a backyard full of Eastern Black Swallowtails, I asked? I was saddened and shocked to learn he didn’t have very many. Wondering about the parsley, I asked if he planted it like I suggested, and if he saw adult butterflies around the parsley laying eggs? It was hard for him to focus his answer because he was more disappointed with the green worms that were all over the plant.” He told me, “I kept picking off these green worms, but then they would come back.” Frustrated, he dumped the whole container of parsley into the compost pile. The moral of the story? We can over-simplify. If you share with a fellow gardener about using parsley as a host butterfly plant for the Eastern Black and Anise Swallowtails, be sure to explain what till come and how your parsley will be eaten away. Make sure to say, “If you see green worms eating your parsley, consider your efforts a success.”
HOW TO GROW PARSLEY
March in the mid-Atlantic region is a good time to direct sow parsley seeds.
Parsley germination is notoriously slow, so be patient. The rate of germination can range from 2–5 weeks. Soaking the seeds for twenty-four hours prior to planting will hasten the germination process.
The most common variety is common or curly parsley, Petroselinium crispum. Typically growing 8-14 inches tall and forming dense clumps, curly parsley looks great grown in borders. Interplanting parsley in the garden beds or in containers along with other herbs, vegetables, or even ornamentals is an intriguing way to add parsley as a host plant to your backyard habitat.
Italian flat-leaf parsley, P. neapolitanum is another popular variety. Bee Better has seen no preference in the variety (curly or flat) as a host butterfly plant. Flat-leaf parsley tends to have a looser habit and is taller, about 2–3 feet. Many find this variety of parsley to have a stronger and sweeter flavor than the other varieties, making it more desirable for cooking. But your butterflies won’t care which variety you plant, as long as there is plenty for their future generations.