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GARDEN SURROUNDINGS: Butterflies & Host Plants In The Garden

By Francesca Filanc for Let's Talk Plants! October 2021.

Photo credit: Francesca Filanc.
Butterfly on a zinnia in the author's garden.

I receive so much joy by planting flowers, plants and vines that attract different butterflies to my garden. Butterflies have symbiotic relationships with different flowering plants and there are seven varieties of butterflies that come to my garden every year. Many are born here because I grow the flowering shrubs, vines and trees to which they are drawn. Many varieties lay their eggs on the flowering plants and once the subsequent caterpillars are born, they eat the leaves until they become full grown caterpillars. Next comes their chrysalis and, after a period of time, —voilà— the individual caterpillars are transformed into the most beautiful butterflies. Those butterflies then gather pollen from the flowers for their food, they mate in the air around the flowers and also on the ground, and then the females lay their eggs . . . and the lifecycle of the caterpillar to butterfly starts all over again in the garden.

The host plant of the Gulf fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae (Linnaeus), is passionflower, Passiflora spp. A strong memory that I have from early childhood is the anticipation of the passionflower vine blooming, that Mum, Pat Welsh, grew up a trellis in our garden; the intricately designed, highly fragrant and colorful flowers bloomed all summer long. I remember examining the beautiful colors and observing the intricate design that mother nature created with a sense of awe and wonder.

This year I was able to locate some passionflower vines for the garden. They were not readily available for several years because they are the host plant for the Gulf fritillary butterfly. Many people did not want a plant that was eaten by the caterpillars. Hard to understand really, when the joy of gardening is so intertwined with the beautiful butterflies, birds and dragonflies that the garden attracts to make their homes.

Zinnias and sunflowers are so rewarding to plant from seed. They attract many butterflies and birds. My friend gave me a tip this year; he told me to cut plastic milk cartons about 5 to 7 inches high to go over each sunflower seed planted. This kept the small shoots from being tasty morsels for rodents and pests. This year they are planted in three areas of my garden.

They inspire me in my work as an artist and they make me smile every time I look at their beauty, so often with a butterfly or several, gathering nectar from one flower to the next, floating to and fro.

Enjoy attracting butterflies to your garden with beautiful flowers.

Happy Gardening,

- Francesca


Artist, author, photographer, fly-fisher woman, Francesca Filanc grew up in old Del Mar and these days lives, paints and gardens in historic Olivenhain with two French poodles.

Find her art and writings here:

She can be found on social media here:

Have gardening questions or want to learn more about Francie’s art? Contact:


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