Local Butterflies 2021


Local Butterflies 2021

This GardenNotes on the butterflies I observed in 2021 is in a way a follow-up to butterfly observations made in the past year. Is it possible for a small home butterfly garden to attract a wide array of butterflies each year? At the end of the 2020 gardening season I wrote and posted a GardenNotes called Local Butterflies. During the first Covid-19 pandemic year, I focused my attention on my home garden and the bees, birds, butterflies and other critters that visited.

The 2020 gardening year and all but one butterfly observation came to an abrupt end on October 23rd, with a severe and prolonged cold front (low of 18°) and snow (7.4 inches!) that hung on for 5 days or more. This was the first freeze of the year giving plants and insects scant time to adjust to a deep and prolonged freeze. It was so suddenly severe: all the warm season flowers died overnight and deciduous plants immediately went dormant with brown, dead foliage dangling from the stems. For the first time for me in forty years gardening, even Nandina’s and some Mahonias lost their leaves, leaving the landscape even more bereft than usual until spring.

Had the butterflies migrated in time ahead of the cold front or found safe harbor from the cold somewhere in the garden? I had observed many Queens, some Monarchs, Painted and American Ladies just prior to the storm, as well as a host of skippers and smaller butterflies. After the freeze and snow, I only had one sighting of a butterfly, a Painted Lady (photo at right) searching for nectar from some pansies on November 20 of 2020. At least the cabbage whites were gone for the year.

I shouldn’t have worried, in retrospect. Over the ages, butterflies have contended with all manner of weather disasters. Some butterfly species overwinter as caterpillars keeping warm in plant litter, other species will overwinter as pupas, and a small number in the egg stage. Monarchs aren’t the only butterfly to migrate south for winter. Cloudless Sulphurs and Queens do too, as do many others. Many species just die went temperatures drop. Many, perhaps most of the butterflies I observed migrated north in spring and summer from warmer, southern regions of south Texas, south Florida or beyond.

 Although the second year of the pandemic wasn’t as restrictive as the first, I continued to observe which butterflies returned during many summer afternoons. Sitting in the shade of our front patio was an ideal perch, camera at hand, with a glass of ice tea.

In Order of Appearance

A Word on My Methods, Such as They Were

I do not consider my butterfly observations to be in any way conclusive, exhaustive or scientific, or on a schedule. As I worked and walked through our garden each day, I would definitely be on the look-out for them. I’m sure I missed seeing some species that, I hope, came by for a bit of nectar on their way to greener pastures when I wasn’t there to notice. Each time I saw a different butterfly, I tried to photograph it. I wasn’t always able to; I didn’t always have my camera with me. Sometimes even with camera I wasn't able to take a clear shot. For instance, one day I was sure I saw a Julia butterfly, but it was so elusive and flighty. Without a photo, I have only my imagination that it was indeed a Julia. It could very well have been a Gulf Fritillary. All photos here were taken in 2021 unless noted.

Also, I did not take photos of every different butterfly in the garden every day, nor did I take notes. By August, though, I was impressed with the number of different species I was seeing, that I began to take many more photos day to day (but again, not every day). Some days, I would mentally note, OK, yes, they were here yesterday and the day before. And on very windy and/or cloudy days, no butterflies would be out and about. But it was always exciting to walk outside to the front garden (the sunny garden) and notice a new species that hadn’t visited me yet this summer.

In all, I observed and photographed two dozen species, with the large group of skippers making up the 24th. For me, skippers are difficult to identify. Plus I’ve added a  butterfly photographed on vacation. Considering my amateur approach to butterfly observation, I felt it was a good season. (Photo at right of a Queen butterfly, upper part of the photo, and a Monarch below it on obedient plant.)

As my main guide, I referred to Butterflies and Moths of North America as a starting point in identifying and describing them. This collaborative website,  BAMONA (for short), contains regional checklists of butterflies seen down to the individual county level. For Randall County, Texas, people have submitted photos of butterfly sightings of 74 species broken down to four groups (my numbers observed in parentheses):

27  (2 named) – Skippers, Hesperiidae Family
4  (1 + 1 ) – Swallowtails, Papilionidae Family
9 (5) – Whites and Sulphurs, Pieridae Family
9 (2) – Gossamer-Winged Butterflies, Lycaenidae Family
25 (13) – Brush-Footed Butterflies, Nymphalidae

I gathered information from various other websites. One of the first websites I'd check for a buterfly species I was unfamaliar with is Alabama Butterfly Atlas, where I could scroll through an extensive list of butterflies, with photos, for ease in identification. Butterflies of New Mexico is particularly good, describing the numerous species by families, such as Nymphalidae family, the brush-footed butterflies, and breaking it down from there. Also of importance to me is information from the Florida Museum, as many butterflies winter in Florida and fly north each spring to repopulate the states for the summer. It didn't take long to learn which family a butterfly was classified in.

Many of the butterflies I've seen in our own garden populate a wide range in many other states. As you can deduce, I observed only about a third of the potential number of species for Randall County. Potter County has much the same butterfly population. Different butterfly species will pop up depending on the proximity to specific host and nectar plants, or even if it just happens to be passing through while someone is out observing. My observations follow, month by month. In the month of a species first observation, I have given a little vignette of that butterfly, and the butterfly group classification, in hopes of better understanding them.  Not every butterfly appeared each month, some I only chanced to observe once the entire summer and fall.

May and June

Cabbage Whites
First to appear, as they are last to leave, were the Cabbage Whites, Pieris rapae (Photo of two Cabbage Whites on the right mating, from 2020). Not a native butterfly (inadvertently introduced from Europe), it shows it’s hardiness by being ever present over a wide range of America’s gardens. I didn’t note when they first appeared, most likely in May, perhaps even April. They prefer plants in the Brassicaceae family, laying eggs on the underside of cabbage, kale, turnip, collards and other vegetable leaves. The familiar bluish-green cabbage worms, or caterpillars, emerge and eat the leaves, especially those of young tender plants. Ornamental cabbage and kale planted in early fall are particularly vulnerable. Mature plants will sport holes, but rebound quickly. To prevent damage, daily removal of eggs and larvae prevents a lot of damage. Cabbage whites are considered to be one of two pest butterflies, the other being orange sulphur, Colias eurytheme, which is a pest of alfalfa.

During the spring of 2019, we made numerous visits to Palo Duro Canyon State Park to view the flora and fauna. It was a lush spring with natives abloom and butterflies enjoying its bounty in May and early June. The springs of 2020 and 2021 were both somewhat restrictive for viewing and a good deal drier. When rains did finally come to the Texas Panhandle in May, 2021, the window of opportunity for an abundant show of native spring flowers had past. And without the flowers, butterfly observations were scarce.
In my own garden this May, (perhaps I wasn’t looking closely) aside from the cabbage whites, I didn’t observe a one. I did spy a Monarch and swallowtail at garden centers, my garden must not have offered what they wanted this early in the year.

It wasn’t until mid-June when I noticed On June 17th a bright orange Gulf Fritillary. A week later on June 24th, Eastern Black Swallowtails, Gray Hairstreaks and Variegated Fritillaries sipped nectar from purple vervain, Verbena bonariensis, and purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. Butterflies preferred these two flowers early on, I noted.

Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary, Dione vanillae. I am surprised that the first (other than the cabbage white) butterfly I saw in my garden was the Gulf Fritillary! I have no passionflowers, but someone close by must have. In fact, I don’t recall seeing a Gulf Fritillary in my garden before. Fritillaries are part of the Nymphalidae family, the brush-footed butterflies, along with monarchs, queens, ladies, buckeyes, crescents, checkerspots, anglewings, admirals and longwings. Nymphalids are called brush-footed as their forelegs are reduced in size and covered in hair – brush-like. The short brush-like legs are held close to their head and are used for tasting food. Because of these short forelegs, brush-footed butterflies appear to only have four legs. (Photo at left of Gulf Fritillary in June.)

Brush-footed butterflies, nymphalids, are usually colored in shades of orange, brown, and black, occasionally checkered or dotted and occasionally having eyespots or spots of silver.

Gulf Fritillaries, are large-sized members of the longwing group, from 2 ½ – 4 inches across in wingspan. Male and female Gulf Fritillaries appear somewhat different from each other (sexual dimorphism), females are typically distinctively larger in size than males and usually darker in color and are more marked with black streaks as compared to the males. Gulf Fritillaries are often called passionflower butterflies, after their host plant. Nectar plants used by the Gulf Fritillary include lantana, butterfly bush, zinnia, aster, thistle, verbena, anisacanthus and others. Gulf Fritillaries are common across the southern states from Florida to New Mexico and California.

Eastern Black Swallowtails 
Eastern Black Swallowtails, Papilio polyxenes, were frequent visitors to my garden from the end of June through at least August and September. They would appear for a few days to a week and then be absent for two to three weeks, and re-appearing in this pattern. Swallowtails are the largest of the butterflies (over 4 inches across) with many species in many regions of the United States, globally, with about 550 species, the majority of them tropical. Most swallowtails have tails on their hind wings, reminiscent of forked tails of barn swallows. It is thought the forked, or swallow-like tails is an adaption to escape capture by birds. (Photo at right of male Eastern Black Swallowtail.)

The Eastern black swallowtail is a large-size butterfly of the swallowtail family up to 4 ½ inches across, and is the swallowtail species most likely to see in the Texas Panhandle. They have a wide range from southern Canada through to South America. In North America they are more common east of the Rocky Mountains. Female Black Swallowtails are larger than males. Male and female Black Swallowtails have different colorations: The upper wing surface is black with two rows of yellow spots – these spots are large and bright in males and smaller and lighter in females. Females have a prominent blue area between these two rows, while males have a much less prominent blue area.

Swallowtails are strong fliers, soaring back and forth across the garden, east to west, and north to south from front yard to back. Swooping and weaving, males chase the females, then join and fly together in an upward spiral, disengage, then come together again, repeating this pattern until they tire or fly off from my view. After mating, female swallowtails hover over parsley (in my garden), fluttering all around the plant, sniffing out the best place to lay her eggs.

Swallowtail favorite host plants include Queen Anne’s lace, wild parsley, dill, fennel, parsley, carrots, and celery commonly found in home gardens. Plant a few extra as the caterpillars enjoy their leaves. You may have noticed green, white and black striped caterpillars with yellow markings on them. When disturbed, these caterpillars push out from behind their head a forked, bright orange, foul-smelling organ called an osmeterium in hopes of deterring birds and other predators (us). Nectar plants include milkweed, clover, thistles, purple coneflower, zinnias, and Verbena bonariensis. They may also sip from mud puddles for moisture, salts and other nutrients.

Gray Hairstreak
Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus, is a small, attractive butterfly, and the most widespread and common of the hairstreak butterflies in North America with a wingspread up to 1 3/8 inch. It’s in the gossamer-winged family of over 150 species in the United States that includes blues, hairstreaks, coppers and harvesters. “These small butterflies in the family Lycaenidae and the subfamily Theclinae have one or two slim (hair-like) tails on the lower “corner” of each hindwing. Some species also have Technicolor, false eyespots near the base of each tail.” (Photo of Gray Hairstreak on Verbena bonariensis with female Eastern Black Swallowtail; and photo on the right is a close-up of the Gray Hairstreak on a sedum flower from 2020.)

Many butterflies “have spots on the upper surface of their wings, spots that look like big, owl eyes that startle predators as the butterfly/moth flies away. A hairstreak’s trickery happens when it’s perched, with wings folded. Its eyespots and antenna-like tails are designed to fool predators into thinking that the butterfly’s head is where its tail is. Hairstreaks even add a behavioral component – a nectaring hairstreak often moves its hindwings up and down, simulating the movement of twitchy antennae. A butterfly that loses a chunk of its hindwing can survive, but a butterfly that loses its head – not so much.” (Univ. of Wisc. Milwaukee, this is a good read for more in-depth info on this marvelous little butterfly.) I must admit to, when observing the Gray Hairstreak, I am often initially fooled into thinking its tail is its head.

Like many butterflies with a wide range, they have learned to be less particular about their host and nectar plants. Nectar plants include up to 200 species, especially plants in the pea family, clover, cotton, hops and mallows. Nectar plants are typically smaller composite flowers.

Variegated Fritillary

Variegated Fritillary, Euptoieta claudia, is brownish orange, with a complex checkered pattern of black markings and dark dots. Male and female are similar to each other in appearance. It has a black-rimmed, pale orange spot near the leading edge of the forewing, and lacks silver spots. They are widespread throughout the southern half of the United States from coast to coast and can migrate to northern states. Their range extends far south into Mexico, Cuba and Jamaica. (Photo at left of Variegated Fritillary in June.)

Variegated Fritillaries are medium size brush-footed butterflies up to 3 1/8” wide and have similarities to the crescent butterflies. They exhibit a slow, erratic flight pattern, not at all like swallowtails.

Variegated Fritillaries have a greater range of host plants compared to other fritillaries, including maypops (Passiflora incarnata), may apple, violets, purslane, sedums/stonecrops, and moonseed. Although in the sub family Heliconinae as are Gulf Fritillaries, Variegated Fritillaries bridge the gap between the Greater Fritillaries (Speyarias) and the Longwings (Heliconias). Their rusty orange, rounded wings cause them to resemble the Greater Fritillaries, but they are considerably smaller. And like the Greater Fritillaries, their caterpillars eat violets--but they also eat passionflowers, the sole host of the Longwings.

Where are the Early Vanessas?

What was not seen in early summer were two lady Vanessa butterflies – American Lady and Painted Lady. They appeared later, and in fewer numbers. In years past, these Vanessa’s would sporadically, but reliably, appear in June and July. Painted Ladies also seemed smaller this year than in the past, especially until mid-September, seemingly smaller by a third or more.


For most of July, there was very little butterfly activity – until July 25th. We were out of town the week prior, so I might have missed some. Still, there was a dearth of butterflies from the end of June until about then. I was out in the garden nearly every day, if not every day noting their absence.

My bonus butterfly observation came on a trip to Colorado where my husband and I rode the train from Durgano to Silverton. In the Rockies, as the train slowed, I noticed yellow flutters as it moved along. Luckily, when the steam trained stopped to take on water, I was able to get a photo of a yellow Western Tiger butterfly on July 15th.

Back at home, on July 25th, I observed Silvery Checkerspots (Photo at right on California poppy), and finally, my friend the Painted Lady. This was followed in a a few days with a Queen and Texas Crescent butterflies. Though I haven't a photo, the Eastern Black Swallowtail flew back and forth during the month.

Western Tiger Swallowtails
Western Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, is a large butterfly up to four inches across of the swallowtail family. They are boldly colored black and yellow with four broad black stripes crossing the forewing and the innermost stripe continuing across the hindwing. The trailing edges of both wings have broad black margins with yellow crescents. The hind wings consist of two blue spots at the inner corner of the inner margin (right at the point where the abdomen ends). Their flight pattern is more gliding than flapping. (Photo above and left.)

The Western Swallowtail can often be found near woodland habitats near rivers and streams, wooded suburbs, canyons, parks, roadsides throughout the western regions of the United States and southern British Columbia. As mentioned above, this is my bonus sighting from our Durango, CO vacation. Western Tiger Swallowtails are not known to visit the Texas Panhandle. As the train chugged along, I kept noticing yellow flutters along for a few miles, among tiny bell-shaped flowers of the dogbane genus. Happily, I was able to catch this photo.

The plant in the photo is spreading dogbane, toxic to dogs and humans, and is closely related to the milkweed family. Western Tigers host plants include mostly trees, including Cottonwood, aspens, poplars, alders, ashes, and willows. They must be hardy, their chrysalis overwinters.

Silvery Checkerspots
Silvery Checkerspots, Chlosyne nycteis, are small brush-foot butterflies up to 2 inches across with a wide range on the eastern side of the Rockies to the east coast, and south up into Canada. Silvery Checkerspots are orange and black with white checker board-like patterns. Female wing color is darker than the males with paler median spots. Finally, only the males of the species have black antenna knobs. I’ve checked all my photos and see orange tipped antennae only. It’s best to compare photos with a reliable source, as Pearl Crescents and Gorgone Checkerspots are similar. After awhile, their various patterns of white dots, orange and black checkerspots, are enough to make one blurry-eyed, especially in the hot afternoon sun. (Photo at left of Silvery Checkerspot on Rudbeckia triloba.)

I won’t soon forget this butterfly. At first, I observed two or three for a week or so. Then by mid-August, more. At the same time, it’s caterpillars began to eat my brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) and purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. By the end of August many more Silvery Checkerspots appeared and these leaves disappeared, all except for their stems, ravaging the plants. Tens and twenties of little black and orange caterpillars devoured them. “Young caterpillars move in groups as they skeletonize leaves,” is one description I can attest is true. I did consider picking them off, but decided to let nature take its course. It is said they overwinter at the base of the plants. We’ll see.

Rudbeckias, sunflowers and echinaceas are host plants. One Amarillo gardener said her zinnias were eaten by similar caterpillars, however my zinnias that grow adjacent to the echinaceas were not touched. They also enjoyed nectar from these plants, as well as from Blackfoot Daisy.

Painted Lady
Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui. The Painted Lady is the most widespread and universal butterfly, found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. It is an earlier butterfly, emerging in May, with several broods throughout the summer into the first freeze. In the south, adults will hibernate in mild winters. Perhaps that is why I didn’t see one until the end of July, as any hibernating Painted Lady probably froze this past February and others further south migrated up. Painted Ladies breed year around in the American tropics and migrates north and west each spring. Like Monarch butterflies, Painted Lady migrations span over the course of multiple generations; it takes about 6 generations for the Painted Lady’s round trip journey from Mexico to Canada and back (Museum of Natural History, Colorado). Their migrating numbers vary from year to year and can sometimes be seen on radar. (Photo at right is Painted Lady on Verbena bonariensis.)

The Painted Lady is a brush-footed butterfly, medium size to about 2 ½ inches across, orange-brown, white and black in a painterly motif, similar in appearance to the American Lady, which has two eyes on the underside of its wings; the Painted Lady has four small eyespots on the underside of it’s hind wings (and no white dot top side).

It’s widespread nature is most likely due in that there are more than 300 host plants for the Painted Lady (Museum of Natural History, Colorado). It is sometimes referred to as the Thistle Lady, their larvae prefer thistles so much. Nectar plants include thistles, aster, cosmos, zinnia, blazing star, ironweed, and joe-pye weed. Flowers from other families that are visited include red clover, buttonbush, privet, and milkweeds, among many others such as echinacea, Verbena bonariensis, and caryopteris in my garden.

Queen, Danaus gilippus, is a large brush-footed butterfly, up to nearly 4 inches across. Queen butterflies were the most present of the butterfly species to my garden this year. From the time of my first sighting on July 29th, for most of the time until the first freeze at least one Queen sipped at my flowers’ nectar. (Queen on blue mist flower at left.)

Queen butterflies enjoy a wide range in the US, it can be found around the Gulf Coast, California, Arizona, Texas, and towards the south of New Mexico, and not so much at all in the mid section or northern parts of America. Globally, they range throughout the tropical, and sometimes temperate, regions of Central and South America. Queen butterflies do migrate, but not near the extent as the Monarchs.

Many people confuse Queens for Monarchs, although they are actually closer in appearance to the Soldier butterfly, these three being milkweed butterflies. Soldier butterflies do not come this far north, so they are automatically ruled out in the Texas Panhandle. Both the sexes of Queens display a chestnut brown base coloration with black borders. The primary wings have white spots scattered at the apex and patterned in two rows. Each of the secondary wings in the male has a brownish black scale patch (which the females lack), otherwise male and female are nearly the same. Queens’ forewings lack the bold black lines that Monarchs are known for and have more of a brownish tint to their orange color.

Host plants of the Queen include plants of the milkweed family. Milkweeds, zinnias, Verbena bonariensis, with Gregg’s Blue Mist Flower, Conoclinium greggii – their hands down favorite nectar plants. Once blue mist flower blooms, if there are Queens, I will find them there. The bloom of the mistflower contains a special alkaloid that male Queens ingest, sequester, and later release as an aphrodisiac to attract females. After visiting blue mist flower, male Queens can exhibit a bit of the soaring and swooping behavior as the swallowtail butterflies. (Native Plant Society of Texas)

Texas Crescent
Texas Crescent, Anthanassa texana, is a small brush-foot butterfly, orange and brown with white spots,  to just under 2 inches. Crescent butterflies have dark or black backgrounds with orange markings, and have dark, crescent-shaped bands along the edges of their wings. The white spots on the Texas Crescent are distinctive. It’s a sharp looking little butterfly! (Photo of Texas Crescent at right on Rudbeckia triloba.)

Texas Crescents can have several broods from March through November, however I’ve not seen it that early, usually in July and August. Acanthus, ruellia, shrimp plant, water willow are hosts plants for the Texas Crescent. They prefer small composite flowers, like Blackfoot daisy, Boltonia, sedums, and Rudbeckia triloba.

The Texas Crescent is a southern butterfly, ranging from Guatemala north through Mexico to southern California, east across the southern United States to northern Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. It can also be seen in the lower Great Plains states.


While July was a good month for butterfly looking, August is when the observations get serious. This is the month when many different butterfly populations are large enough to make it to the Texas Panhandle. And if you’re offering butterfly nectar plants, they’ll probably visit you. A gardener needs to give butterflies a reason to stop and visit.

In August, I photographed sixteen different species. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to some of the smaller butterflies and skippers. But then, they’re butterflies, too, and deserve a bit of attention. Most of the small butterflies, once I noticed them, I also noticed they remained until the end of the season.

First to be photographed on August 5th was the Red Admiral and my first Monarch siting in our garden. Although Red Admirals are said to be widespread, I would only see them once, maybe twice a year. On August 6th, another Painted Lady, and on the 10th, some Queens. August 12, I noted continued presence of Silvery Checkerspots, as their caterpillars were doing some major damage to rudbeckias and echinaceas. Joining them was a diminutive Dainty Sulphur, and more Eastern Black Swallowtails sniffing around the parsley. My attention was tuned in to toward the Cloudless Sulphur on the 15th, and the Common Checkered Skipper on the 16th, although I had noticed it for a week or more before documenting it.

The Variegated Fritillary was back on the 17th, back to stay, I think as it was often present. My attention turned again to two small butterflies I had been seeing, Reakirts Blue, the Common Sootywing. Then the Common Buckeye making it’s first appearance on the 23rd. On the 25th, the only sighting of Gorgone Checkerspot this year, and then finally, on Aug 26th, multiple American Ladies.

Day to day, I enjoyed pairs, fours and sixes of Queens, Monarchs, Eastern Black Swallowtails and Variegated Fritillaries, as well as Dainty Sulphurs, Sootywings, Checkered Skippers, Reakirt’s Blue, Gray Hairstreak, and many unknown skippers. Many days it was glorious. Standing in the midst of the butterfly garden was as enjoyable as visiting a butterfly house, only right outside my door.

Skippers are a large group of butterflies in the family Hesperiidae, that have gotten their common name from their rapid, skipping flight. They are small to medium in size and are different from other butterflies in that their bodies are larger in proportion to their wings and have a hooked bulb at the end of each antenna, bent ninety degrees to the side, rather than straight. There are seven subfamilies of skippers; many North American skippers are grouped in three subfamilies, the grass skippers, flowering plant skippers and giant skippers, which include yucca and agave skippers. (Sleepy Orange and Skippers on Zinnia at left.)

Grass skippers are generally small, less than 1 ½ inches across, and at first glance might resemble a moth. This is the largest group of skippers in North America. They have large eyes and short wings they flap rapidly to fly and are mainly orange, brown, black, white or gray. They hold their wings partially open with the forewing separated from the hind wing, making two V’s, one inside the other. Many of them look similar to each other unless examined closely. All of the folded-wing skippers eat grass and are prevalent in prairies and meadows. (Fold-wing skipper at right on obedient plant.)

The flowering plant skippers (can also be known as “Herb Tree and Shrub Skippers”), are spread-wing skippers – skippers that hold their wings open. This is the second largest group of skippers in North America. Common Sootywing and Common Checkered Skippers are two I’ve identified in this article, and the Horace’s Duskywing last year.

The third group is a small group, includes the yucca and agave skippers. I’m sure I’ve seen the Yucca Giant Skipper and or Strecker’s Giant Skipper, as it is often seen in Randall County. It is a large skipper, up to 3 1/8 inches across and a strong flyer. The Strecker’s Giant makes a clicking noise when it flies. I know I’ve heard them at Wildcat Bluff and Palo Duro Canyon. Yucca’s are their host plants. These adults don’t feed, but take in moisture from mud.

Red Admiral
Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, is a medium size, brush-footed butterfly with a wingspan from 1 ¾ – 3 inches. Red Admirals have a diverse and widespread range in North and South America, Europe, Asia and North Africa, with host plants numbering over 50 plant genera, chief among them are nettles. It is commonly found, however, not so much in my garden, as I only had a single sighting this year. This Red Admiral, pictured on the left, escaped a tussel with a bird. I'm happy to provide sustenance before he continues his journey.

The distinctive feature of the Red Admiral is the red band across the forewing against a black background, with white spots near the wing tips. Red Admirals are territorial and highly aggressive to other butterflies, birds and even mammals, but are friendly toward people. They will patrol their territory looking for females, chasing away intruders. They sip nectar from many flowers, especially composite flowers, also drink from moist water sources that provide minerals and electrolytes – this is called wicking. Butterflies can commonly be seen wicking near muddy puddles of water. Red Admirals are also known to drink tree sap and fermenting fruit and even wick from dung. Red Admirals are active from March to November, more active in the spring and fall than summer.

Monarch, Danaus plexippus, The Monarch butterfly is the state insect of Texas and a migrating butterfly, one of the most recognized butterflies in the United States.  It is a large brush-footed butterfly up to nearly 5 inches in width. Monarch males are bright orange with wide black borders and black veins; hindwing has a patch of scent scales. Females are orange-brown with wide black borders and blurred black veins. Both sexes have white spots on borders and wing tips. (Photo of Monarch on zinnias at right.)

For information on the Monarch’s incredible migration story, click here. The Monarch has a wide range over North America, Central America and South America.

Plants in the milkweed genus are essential to Monarchs life cycle as their host plant for larvae. Most milkweeds contain cardiac glycosides which are stored in the bodies of both the caterpillar and adult. These poisons are distasteful and emetic to birds and other vertebrate predators. After tasting a Monarch, a predator might associate the bright warning colors of the adult or caterpillar with an unpleasant meal, and avoid Monarchs in the future. Nectar plants include all milkweeds. Early in the season before milkweeds bloom, Monarchs visit a variety of flowers including dogbane, lilac, red clover, lantana, and thistles. In the fall, adults visit composites including goldenrods, blazing stars, ironweed, zinnias, Echinacea, purple vervain, Gregg’s blue mist flower, tickseed, Caryopteris, and sunflowers.

Although Monarch population numbers have declined dramatically over the years, estimated to have decreased by at least 80% of the eastern population, and up to 99% of the western population, as of July, 2021, the Monarch butterfly will not be added to the endangered species list, though it is a candidate for the endangered species list, to be reviewed every year until 2024 (Smithsonian Magazine and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Services).

Dainty Sulphur
Dainty Sulphur, Nathalis iole, is the smallest of the sulphur butterflies in the United States, with a wingspan to only about an inch and a quarter. But its a darling! One reference says it is usually overlooked. I admit to overlooking it, until I gave it a good look. Then, of course, I noticed many of them. They usually stay close to the ground on low growing flowering plants, so I had to bend low for the photos. (Photo of Dainty Sulphur at left on Blackfoot Daisy.)

Small, with elongated forewings for a sulphur. The upperside is yellow with black markings, female with more extensive black than male. The underside of the forewing with orange or yellow patch at base of wing and black spots at outer wing edge.

Host plants include low-growing plants in the asters family, heleniums, the fetid marigold and cultivated marigolds. Nectar plants include asters, marigolds, rabbitbush and other small daisy-like flowers that grow low to the ground. 

The Dainty Sulphur had a wide range from Central America across most of the United States. It remains active in the winter in Southern Texas and Florida and repopulates across the Great Plains and up into Minnesota come spring, as it cannot survive cold temperatures. For such a small butterfly, that’s a wide territory to wing it each spring.

Cloudless Sulphur
Cloudless Sulphur, Phoebis sennae, is a medium size butterfly, but large for a sulphur. Cloudless Sulphur butterflies have an average wingspan of about 2-3 inches. There are differences between male and female sulphur butterflies. The males are typically solid yellow, while the females are yellow with a black border on their wings and a dark spot at the center of each forewing. Wings are usually held upright – making it difficult to snap a photo for a dorsal view. (Photo at right of Cloudless Sulphur is from 2020.)

Cloudless Sulphur butterflies have a wide range from Mexico north to the southern borders of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and into New England, and all the way to the east and west coast. They overwinter in south Texas and in Florida. They are a migrating butterfly, where the migrations are easier to see than Monarchs, as sulphurs travel two to three feet above ground, rather than high up in the sky as the Monarchs do. From the northern border of Florida, it is common to see the migration, the fall migration more than the spring.

The host plants of the Cloudless Sulphur are plants in the Cassia and Senna genera, members of the pea family. They have relatively long tongues and can reach the nectar of some tubular flowers that some other butterflies cannot, and have shown preference to red flowers, including cordia, bougainvilla, cardinal flower, hibiscus, lantana, wild morning glory, and scarlet sage, Salvia coccinea.

From August on, most weeks the Cloudless Sulphurs could be spotted.

Common Checkered Skipper
Common Checkered Skipper, Burnsius communis, is identical to the White Checkered Skipper and can only be identified by dissection. For these purposes, this is probably the Common Checkered Skipper. Both these skippers are members of the spread-wing skippers subfamily, also known as the “Herb, Shrub and Tree Skippers”, as their larvae eat a variety of those plants. Converse to some butterflies, it is difficult to see the underside of their wings, as they are most always spread open. They are a small butterfly to 1 ½ inches. The white and black checkered pattern makes identification simple. Males tend to have larger white spots than females and have bluish hairs near the body. (Photo of Common Checkered Skipper at left on Rudbeckia triloba.)

The Common Checkered Skipper has a range over nearly the entire United States, parts of Canada and Mexico.

Host plants are several plants in the mallow family, including globemallows (Sphaeralcea), mallow (Malva), hollyhock (Althaea), alkali mallows (Sida), velvet-leaf (Abutilon), and poppy mallow (Callirhoe). Nectar plants include many verbena, composites and clover.

Common Sootywing
Common Sootywing, Pholisora catullus, is a small spread-wing skipper with a wingspan up to about an inch and a quarter. This species is a very dark, blackish-brown skipper with many small white spots on the wings that can be seen from above and below. The female has more white spots than the male. I always see it with the wings spread wide, and from July through the end of the season. Even though it is small, its blackness catches one’s eye. (Photo of Common Sootywing at right on Salvia 'New Dimension Blue'.)

The range of the Common Sootywing encompasses nearly the entire United States, the northern parts of Mexico, and the very southern parts of Canada. This Common Sootywing travels close to the ground.

Host plants include lambsquarters, amaranths, and cockscomb (Celosia). I find it feeding on Verbena bonariensis, short European meadow sages such as Salvia ‘Rose Marvel’ meadow sage and Salvia ‘New Dimension Blue’ meadow sage, as well as butterfly bush and small composites like Blackfoot Daisy and sedum flowers.

Reakirt’s Blue
Reakirt’s Blue, Echinargus isola, is a small gossamer-winged butterfly, one of the blues, with a wingspan reaching only to a maximum of 1 1/8th inch across.  Males are blue on the upper sides of their wings while females are mostly brown with some blue close to the body. The underside of forewing shows a row of 5 round black spots circled with white, which help in its identification. (Photo at left of Reakirt's Blue on sedum flower, and on the right, a view showing the 5 round black spots to aid in identification, photo from 2019.)

Host plants include many plants in the pea family including yellow sweet clover, rattleweed (Astragalus), mesquite (Prosopis), indigo bush (Dalea), mimosa, and indigo species. Nectar plants include a variety of herbs including spearmint and white sweet clover. In nature, they are most often seen nectaring at clover flowers. I’ve seen Reakirt’s Blue often on oregano and sedum flowers – all small. They are tiny and usually hold their wings upright, but patience rewards with the dorsal view.

Reakirt’s Blue butterflies are emigrants that strays north to our area and beyond from mid-summer to early autumn. They reside in southern California, the Southwest, and Texas through Mexico and Central America to Costa Rica during the winter. In the summer, they migrant north and east through the Mississippi River and the Great Plains states up to Wisconsin and Ohio.

Common Buckeye
Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia, is a medium size, brush-footed butterfly with a wingspan to 2 ¾ inches. Its a very showy butterfly. Common buckeyes are mostly brown above with two orange bars on the leading edge of the forewing and an off-white forewing band. All four wings have eye-catching eyespots.

Larvae feed mostly on verbenas, plantains, toadflax, ruellias, and snapdragons. They can be found on a variety of nectar plants such as zinnia, butterfly bush, hydrangea, purple vervain, and others. Buckeyes also take fluids from mud and damp sand.

The Common Buckeye resides in the southern United States and much of Mexico, and migrates northward to colonize most of the eastern and parts of the western United States, into southern Canada. I was only able to see this beautiful butterfly on a few occasions.

Gorgone Checkerspot
Gorgone Checkerspot, Chlosyne gorgon, is a small brush-footed butterfly with a wingspan to 1 ¾ inches across. Close to the body is attractive orange and black checker-board patterning. The upperside is orange with black markings; the hindwing has a row of solid black spots. Closed wings have a zigzag pattern of brown and white bands and a median band of white chevrons on the hindwings. (Photo at left of Gorgone Checkerspot, not the best photo, but only one for 2021.)

The Gorgone Checkerspot is considered to be more of a Great Plains butterfly, ranging from Alberta east to southwest Manitoba and southern Ontario, south through the Great Plains to central New Mexico, central Texas, Louisiana, and central Georgia. Isolated populations in the Appalachians and the east slope of the Rocky Mountains.

Host plants in the Asteraceae family includes sunflower and crosswort (Lysimachia) species. The larvae can skeletonize sunflowers. One source reported they prefer yellow flowers. I spotted the Gorgone Checkerspot only once this year on my rose colored butterfly bush.

American Lady
American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis, is a medium size brush-footed butterfly with a wingspan to 2 5/8 inches across. The American Lady and Painted Lady can look very similar to each other, especially if they are not together (and they often are not). The American Lady has uneven brown, yellow, and orange pattern. It’s forewing has a blackpatch. And two large eyespots on the hindwing below, whereas the Painted Lady has four eyespots. On the forewing, the American Lady features a white dot on an orange field, not seen on the Painted Lady. (Photo of American Lady at right on butterfly bush -- note the two eye spots on the hindwing and the white dot in the orange field.)

The American Lady occurs from southern Canada throughout the eastern half of the United States (though not including the northern Great Plains and the Rockies) and southward to northern South America and is seen occasionally in Europe, Hawaii, and the larger Caribbean islands. Adults overwinter in the southern United States and repopulate more northern areas each spring.

Host plants include plants in the sunflower family, asters, pussytoes, everlasting, ironweed, cudweed. The American Lady feeds on nectar from a variety of flowers, and also on tree sap and decaying fruit. I usually see them on Verbena bonariensis, zinnias, butterfly bush, Caryopteris, and gayfeather. I saw far fewer American Ladies this year than last.


September’s butterfly population ebbed and flowed with more small butterflies and skippers than the medium and larger ones. Some days the garden would be filled with them, other days, only a few as one brood dies off and another emerges from their chrysalis. Silvery Checkerspots were mostly gone for the year. Eastern Black Swallowtails were present from time to time. One or two Queens appeared from time to time until the second half of September, when they were back in force. In September, I observed only one species I hadn’t seen in the previous months, the Bordered Patch.

In the second week, Variegated Fritillaries returned yet again, joined by Gulf Fritillaries within a few days. By the third week of September, the Bordered Patch appeared, along with more Queens, Monarchs and another appearance of the Common Buckeye. Skippers, Reakirt’s Blue and the Dainty Sulphurs were in abundance.

Bordered Patch
Bordered Patch, Chlosyne lacinia, is a medium sized brush-footed butterfly up to 2 inches across. It is predominantly brown and black, with a curving band in shades of orange, and white spots on the wingtips, small orange or white postmedian spots, and variable in appearance. Photo at right of Bordered Patch on Verbena bonariensis.)

The Bordered Patch may be encountered in habitats such as desert hills, mesquite woodlands, pinyon woodlands, and oak woodlands. Its range is throughout the southwest and lower Great Plains. In North America, this species prefers to inhabit agricultural areas and weedy wastelands where their preferred host plant, the sunflower, occurs. It is sometimes called the Sunflower Patch.  Teams of caterpillars of the Bordered Patch will skeletonize sunflowers. Indian Blanketflower and ragweed are also host plants.  I found it sipping nectar from Verbena bonariensis.



October was the second most active butterfly month, in terms of numbers of butterflies observed. Queens and Monarchs were in greater numbers, frequently more than a half dozen each in our tiny butterfly garden. American and Painted Ladies were back, but few, maybe no swallowtails, as I did not record a photo of them this month. Gulf and Variegated Fritillaries also came. Sulphurs and skippers were in abundance. A very battered Common Buckeye rested and nourished, however, it didn’t look like he had long to live. Towards the end of the month, I made my first observation ever of the American Snout. It's getting near the end of the season.

Clouded Sulphur
Clouded Sulphur, Colias philodice, is a small to medium sized sulphur butterfly, from 1 ½ to 2 ¾ inches across. The males are yellow and have a solid black border, while females have 2 forms: yellow form with uneven black edging enclosing yellow spots, and a white form which is greenish-white rather than yellow. There is a black spot on the upper center of the forewing of both sexes. Spring and fall forms are smaller and less conspicuously marked, which accounts for their size variability. Unfortunately, this butterfly rarely lands with its wings open. Clouded Sulphurs are closely related to the Orange Sulphurs, the white form of the female is nearly identical for both. (Photo at right is the Clouded Sulphur on Gomhrena 'Fireworks' at the Amarillo Botanical Gardens.)

Larvae eat leafy members of the bean or pea family, particularly clovers. Adults drink nectar from a variety of butterfly flowers, including clovers and milkweeds, plus dandelions, thistles, and other members of the sunflower family. Adult Clouded Sulphurs will congregate at mud puddles and even animal excrement for moisture and minerals.

The Clouded Sulphur is considered a northern butterfly, ranging  from Alaska south through central and southeast Canada, all of contiguous United States except much of California, south Texas, and most of Florida.

Sleepy Orange Sulphur
Sleepy Orange Sulphur, Abaeis nicippe, is a small to medium sulphur butterfly to 2 1/4 inches across. Basically they are orange butterflies with black borders. There is a small black dash (or "sleepy eye" mark) near the middle in the upper forewing. They are named “Sleepy” for this black mark rather than their activity. Males are uniformly orange on upperside. Females are paler and somewhat streaked. Both sexes have a long, brownish smudged line on the outer hindwing. There are two seasonal color forms: underside hindwings are yellow in the summer form and brick red in winter form, which we’ll probably not see in the Texas Panhandle. It is difficult to catch them with wings open.

 Sleepy Orange Sulphurs range from Mexico up through the United States as far north as the mid-America, rarely traveling to the northern states. They fly lower to the ground.

Hosts plants are members of the Cassia genera in the pea family. Nectar sources include asters, goldenrods, mistflowers, and other late season bloomers. They have four to five broods in a year, but I’ve mainly seen them in September and October.

American Snout
American Snout, Libytheana carinenta, is a small brush-footed butterfly to 2 inches across. The first time I saw this butterfly was October 24th in my garden and I didn’t get a photo, it was quick to leave. But I said to myself, that butterfly has a long snout! The next day, I visited the butterflies at the Amarillo Botanical Gardens and observed it in two different locations, getting several good photos. Identification was easy (Google: butterfly with a long snout?”) The first entry up was the American Snout, the only snout butterfly in the United States.

The dorsal wing pattern is orange with wide dark borders with white spots. American Snouts have greatly elongated labial palps (mouth parts) – or noses to humans. Male and female look virtually the same. They may be difficult to see, adults perch on branches and imitate dead leaves by holding palps and antennae downward to look like petioles. In this photo on the right on a wheat celosia, Celosia spicata, the American Snout blends in with the leaves. “In addition to camouflage, Snouts use startle tactics to aid in defense against vertebrate predators. Perched Snouts may resemble dried leaves but by quickly raising their forewings, the butterflies flash attackers with a startling flash of orange” (Alabama Butterfly Atlas, American Snout). Photo on left is the American Snout on Gomphrena 'Fireworks'.

Their hosts plants are several species of the hackberry, and are sometimes called hackberry butterflies, not to be mistaken for the large Hackberry Emperor ( which I did not see this year). American Snouts are common in forest clearings and edges, thorn scrub, brushy fields, roadsides and gardens. Nectar plants include flowers of aster, dogbane, dogwood, goldenrod, sweet pepperbush, amaranths, and others.

The American Snout has a wide range in North America from Central American northward to the southern borders of the northern states in the east, and the Southwest in the west. It is said in the springtime, there are large visible migrations of American Snouts from Mexico into the Southwest and on into Colorado.

Plants for Butterflies

Six years ago in 2016, I wrote Pollinator Friendly Gardens.  The reasons, tips and practices for creating gardens for pollinators are basically the same as for creating a garden for butterflies (For a refresher, read Pollinator Friendly Gardens and Attracting Pollinators with Annual Plantings). Some of the plants chosen for butterflies will appeal to some bees, wasps and moths too.

But why even garden for butterflies, other than deriving pleasure from watching, or observing? Butterflies, or more specifically, their caterpillars are an essential link in the food chain to birds. Adult birds need 6,000 caterpillars to feed one nest of growing baby birds! By favoring lawns and ornamental exotic – non native – plants at the expense of native plants, we've eliminated the primary food source for caterpillars. This leads to fewer insects and fewer birds and a much reduced ecosystem. Butterflies are also pollinators, however, not to the major extent that bees are. (Native Plant Finder)

The ideal butterfly garden for the Texas Panhandle would actually be a prairie garden composed of native grasses, forbs (flowering plants, both annual and perennial), plus native trees and shrubs. This would be a self-supporting garden requiring minimal watering and feeding, however, some weeding, as the wind and birds will bring in weed seeds over time. A prairie butterfly garden would attract many different butterfly species in proportion to the diversity of the planting. (Photo at left of numerous take offs and landings by Queens and a Monarch on this late of season Verbena bonariensis.)

Natives support local ecosystems because they are viable links in the food chain. Wildlife, the butterflies, evolved alongside the native plants in our region and use those native plants as food, shelter, and a place to raise their young.

But we do not live in ideal situations, with ideal acreage for the ideal butterfly gardens. Our home garden plots are much smaller than the space needed for a prairie. My butterfly garden is small, measuring 15 feet long by 8-10 feet wide, the xeristrips bordering the garage entrance and the street, plus a few nectar plants scattered here and there.

Many of these native plants are difficult to find in nurseries or even native plant seed catalogs – it takes a bit of searching. But there are some readily available. A butterfly gardener would need to keep in mind whether any plant selected benefits butterflies as a host or nectar plant – the more limited the space, the more important each plant selection becomes. Some butterflies are generalists able to use exotics for their larvae and adult nectar feeding. Many of them need specific genera or species of native plants for their caterpillars to mature.

Choose Butterfly Plants The basic idea in creating butterfly friendly gardens is to provide food and habitat for them throughout the growing season. Plant in clumps or drifts, rather than single plants so your garden will be noticed by passing butterflies. They are attracted by scent; the larger the grouping, the more scent molecules available. Butterflies prefer colorful, fragrant flowers with flat and broad surfaces on which to land and sip nectar. Some butterflies have longer tongues that can reach inside tubular flowers. Small butterflies like small flowers. A diverse selection of nectar plants will attract a diverse range of butterflies. (Looking closely at the photo on the right, you'll see to Silvery Checkerspots on the Sunflower.)

Not all cultivars are butterfly-friendly – cultivars and hybrids may not offer the same amount of “pollen and nectar rewards” as straight species. Flowers unnaturally bred to bloom double confuse the pollinators and often reduces the amount of nectar and pollen. Single blooming flowers, whether native or exotic species, or with minimal hybridization, are best. Many butterfly resources list native plants for butterflies. Research on one website can lead to others for even more information. (Some resources below.) (Photo of a stand of native spotted bee balm and Red Admiral from Palo Duro Canyon in May, 2019.)

Create a Butterfly Environment. Locate your butterfly garden in a sunny spot. Butterflies prefer sunny areas and most flowering plants do too.

Butterflies also need less manicured garden areas for resting, hiding, laying eggs, and rearing young. Avoid the pollinator-pitfall of excessive tiding up in the garden. Once butterflies are invited into your garden and lay eggs, allow them to overwinter for the following year. Minimal fall clean-up is advised. Or dedicate places in your garden out of public sight that are natural and desirable to pollinators. Fallen branches and twigs can be located in back or out of sight areas for butterflies and other insects. Trees and shrubs are important for them to rest safely from predators during the day and overnight. If you can, choose native trees and shrubs that are hosts plants for butterfly larvae.

Enhance the butterfly environment “by putting out slices of overripe bananas, oranges and other fruits, or a sponge in a dish of lightly salted water to see which butterflies come to investigate. Sea salt provides a broader range of micronutrients than regular table salt”. (Gardening for Pollinators)

Don’t Use Herbicides and Pesticides. The book, Gardening For Butterflies, by the Xerces Society, says “In general, no compelling reason exists to use insecticides in a butterfly garden.” A landscape gardened organically will just not encounter problems that would entice a gardener to use these killing “cides.” If you have an ecologically-friendly garden, you will have insects munching on leaves. This is natural. As mentioned above, there will be occasions when a caterpillar population skeletonizes some flowering plants that happen to be their host plants. This is natural. It takes a caterpillar to become a butterfly. Pick some of the caterpillars off by hand if you must. The use, and especially the regular use of herbicides and pesticides will greatly reduce your butterfly population as well as other beneficial insects. (Photo at left is of Silvery Checkerspot caterpillars eating away on Rudbeckia triloba.)

“Don’t use any insecticides,!!” advises Neal Hinders, grower and owner of Canyon’s Edge Plants in Canyon, Texas. “I had the Bordered Patch feeding on some of our native sunflowers in my outer yard and pastures last summer. It’s a scary sight! There may be hundreds feeding on a single plant and they will skeletonize the leaves. They are very host specific so they don’t attack many other garden plants. (They will decimate Rudbeckia from time to time as well.)”

My Better Butterfly Plants

There are quite a number of plants to choose from, when it comes to only attracting butterflies to one’s garden. If you’re new to butterfly gardening, your sunny bed may not be very large.

Here is a very short list of plants that I observed butterflies supping on them more often than others, in order of most importance. Moreover, these plants are all great garden plants on that merit alone. A longer list is given in Local Butterflies, from 2020.

Purple Vervain, Verbena bonariensis. Although it’s native to Brazil, Purple vervain was the most visited plant by butterflies in my garden – a butterfly magnet. Tall to 3 ½ – 4 feet, slender and branching plant with small flat clusters of small purple flowers. Blooms spring to fall. Perennial plant that will put out a few seedlings that can be moved if another area would be better. If you can only squeeze one species of butterfly nectar plant into your garden, this would be my choice (plant in a group of 3 as a minimum for best effect). (Photo at right.)

Gregg’s Blue Mist Flower, Conoclinium greggii. Another butterfly magnet! Two – three foot tall perennial with divided light green leaves, native to Texas and New Mexico and into Arizona. Spreads by rhizomes, which can be easily dug up and moved to more locations. Blooms summer into the fall. Very attractive to Queens and other butterflies. (Photo at left with a half dozen Queens.)

Blackfoot daisy, Melampodium leucanthum. A local perennial native, a low mounding plant with white daisy-like flowers from spring into fall. Drought tolerant, self-seeding and a great addition to any xeric garden. Nectar plant for small butterflies and bees. (Photo at right with a Dainty Sulphur.)

Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea or our native Echinacea agustifolia Echinacea purpurea has a long bloom period from spring into fall. Our ative perennial wildflower, E. agustifolia flowers mainly in late spring. If choosing hybrids, select non-double simpler cultivars -- many of attract a wide range of butterflies over a long period.

Zinnias. Annual plant from 8 inches to four feet, depending on variety. This is one of the annuals that butterflies and moths love. I’ve even seen hummingbirds feeding on its nectar. I plant zinnias every year just for the butterflies, in addition to a few cut flowers for the house. Again, do not plant any double cultivars.

Sunflowers, Helianthus. The flowers of annual sunflowers attract all manner of pollinators, including butterflies. Sunflowers are always a great addition to any pollinator garden for the very wide range of insects that feed on it.

Other Area Butterfly Gardeners

I asked Greg Lusk, Executive Director of the Amarillo Botanical Gardens for his best recommendations. He plants beds of zinnias and Gregg’s Blue Mist Flower for a spectacular butterfly show in late summer and fall. Cone-shaped, magenta wheat celosia, Celosia spicata, populates one area at the Gardens that attracts both butterflies and bees. Greg  recommends the globe amaranth, Gomphrena pulchella “Fireworks” “Gomphrena 'Fireworks' is a cultivar of globe amaranth introduced by Ball Horticulture in 2009. It is a great low maintenance plant with bright pink, one inch flowers rising well above the foliage on plants up to 3 feet in our area.  A couple of things I particularly like about the plant is that it doesn't require deadheading and is a great pollinator attractor.  The plant is pretty drought and heat tolerant and has a tendency to reseed and come back from the root in sheltered positions. The name Fireworks comes from the hot pink irregularly shaped flower heads with yellow stamens bursting out which really do look like fireworks upon close inspection,” commented Lusk.

Neal Hinders, of Canyon’s Edge Plants, is an avid butterfly observer. He shared his observations and list of favored butterfly host plants with me: “I have a few plants that are must have in my gardens for caterpillars: Parsley, Fennel and or Rue to attract and feed Swallowtail larvae. (Photo at left of Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars, one of them molting from one instar stage to the next on parsley.)

Passion vine for the Fritillary butterflies. The Gulf Fritillary is one of my favorites. Passion vine can be aggressive - it needs plenty of room and a trellis or fence. I plant mine on the warm side of my house or yard- it might suffer in the coldest winters otherwise, but I've had mine since 2014 at the shop."

Hinders continues, "Of course Asclepias {Milkweeds} for the Monarchs- though I rarely see any caterpillars. I think they pass through here a little late in the season to be raising young, but I occasionally see one. Asclepias tuberosa is great in the garden. It blooms for a very long time and then has interesting seed pods late summer/ fall." (Photo at left, below, of Asclepias tuberosa.)
Asclepias latifolia- Broadleaf milkweed is the easiest for me to grow at my house in the country. I’ve never actually planted any here {at his shop}. I mowed around the few I had many years ago and they have multiplied nicely. Some Asclepias are more poisonous to livestock than others. Broadleaf is in the same pasture as my goats. They will not eat them while green, but they love them as they start drying in the fall. I’d be careful to avoid getting the sap on your skin or especially the eyes.

Our hackberry has been referred to as the universal donor for caterpillars. Evidently many species use it as a food source.”

For nectar plants, Hinders plants a good selection:  catmint, Russian sage, Caryopteris, lavender and butterfly bush. They are reliable in attracting butterflies; plant several of them in groups together.

In Summary

I have found that gardening for and observing butterflies to be highly rewarding and fun. I’ve learned to appreciate each and every species from the smallest ground-hugging Dainty Sulphurs to medium-sized Variegated Fritillary to the largest soaring Eastern Black Swallowtails, Queens and Monarchs. It is a wonder to contemplate the long migration of Monarchs as they make their way from Mexico to the Canadian border. Equally so, the shorter, but still astonishing migrations of the small, nearly tiny, Dainty Sulpher as it wings its way north near ground level from Southern Texas and Florida to repopulate across the Great Plains to Minnesota. It has a been a real joy to step outside into their world and discover each and every different species. I am happy to choose a few plants for my garden that help them along their journey. (Photo of Gulf Fritillary on Salvia darcii at right.)


Alabama Butterfly Atlas, an excellent source of information about many butterflies of our region.

Attracting Native Pollinators, A Xerces Society Guide, Storey Publishing, 2011.

Butterflies and Moths of North America, dedicated to collecting and sharing data about Lepidoptera. Check out the butterflies and moths in your regional checklist – down to the county!

Butterflies at Home, List of Texas butterflies.

Butterflyidentification.org List of Texas butterflies.

Butterfly Nectar and Host Plants for Central Texas Butterflies, Austin Butterfly Forum

Butterflies of New Mexico, an excellent website for a large number of butterflies we might find in the Texas Panhandle.

Dallasbutterflies.org List of butterflies of the Dallas area and host plants.

Florida Museum, another rich source of butterfly information.

Gardening for Butterflies: How You Can Attract and Protect Beautiful, Beneficial Insects by The Xerces Society, Timber Press, 2016.

Pollinator Plants for the Southern Plains Region, Xerces Society

Angie Hanna, January, 2022