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Butterfly Gardens

Published on July 2nd 2020

by Going.Local. All rights reserved

Butterflies are one of the few insects that attract universal appeal. Their symbolic nature has embedded them into several cultures including Germanic, Japanese, Chinese and African. It might be the attraction of bright wings or their association with flowers, but they always seem to catch your eye.
From a gardeners point of view, one would like to attract as many as possible and be able to distinguish between what we perceive as 'Good vs Bad' caterpillars. So why not have a look at some breathtaking large migrations and tips on gardening with butterflies.
A close up of a Butterfly
The African Monarch lays its eggs on Milkweed plants including carrion flowers.

Fun facts

There is a lot to know about butterflies, but a few fun questions always pop up...
How long do they live? A butterfly can live for approximately one month (species-dependent).
What are pupae or chrysalises? Both refer to a state between a caterpillar and an adult where they undergo transformation. The term pupa can also be used for bees, beetles and moths.
What do they eat? Adults can live off nectar, tree sap or decomposing animal matter. Caterpillars will often be reliant on a specific set of plant species for food.
Why are they called butterflies? It refers to the colour of sulphurs, a common European butterfly.
A field of tall grass and a butterfly
The size of a migratory group is related to the stability of food sources.

Butterfly migrations

Some butterflies will emerge, feed and breed in the same area without a large degree of movement. Conversely, those that attempt migration can often cross continents to reach new feeding grounds. These migrations may differ in size and timing, but they are a wonder to behold.
I have selected a hand full of such migrations from around the world to share with you:
US / Mexico: Monarch butterfly
  • When: They travel South in Winter and North in Spring
  • How often: Annually
Queensland Australia: Caper White butterfly
  • When: Spring
  • How often: Every 6-10 years
Europe to Africa: Painted Lady Butterfly
  • When: Spring
  • How often: Annually
South Africa: Brown-veined White butterfly
  • When: Mid-summer
  • How often: Annually
  • Numbers depend on the state of food source
NatGeo WILD did a short film on the large monarch butterfly migration. View it here:

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Provide a butterfly nursery

Females will be attracted to specific trees or shrubs to lay their eggs. These will form the food source for the hatching caterpillars. Note that trees covered in caterpillars might seem alarming at first, but often this relationship benefits both parties with the tree emerging stronger. If you find yourself unsure as to the nature of the caterpillar, why not ask the Candide community regarding the ID, or browse guides like Field Guide to the Butterflies of Southern Africa by Steve Woodhall and Gardening for Butterflies by Steve Woodhall and Lindsay Gray.
Tip | If you want to limit the damage to your plants, but keep the caterpillars, then place a nylon stocking on a section and bind the ends.
The CBISA provides a comprehensive list of indigenous plants that form host plants for larvae. To help you pinpoint which species occur in your region, see the list below:
All South Africa
  • African Monarch
Some Orbea variegata in flower

Bokhoring (Afr.)

Orbea variegata


Asclepias spp.

Christmas butterfly (Princeps demodocus demodocus)
Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)
Northern Areas (Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, NW Province)
Christmas-tree acraea (Acraea anemosa)
Adenia venenata
Clear-spotted acraea (Acraea aglaonice)
Blougans (Hypolimnas misippus)
Subtropics (Eastern Cape & KZN)
Green-banded swallowtail (Princeps nireus lyaeus)
Small-striped swallowtail (Graphium policenes)
  • Small cluster pear
  • Red hook-berry
A close up of a butterfly

Provide a food source

Butterflies will need a good food source in autumn to last them through their winter hibernation. They will then need an equally sufficient supply as they emerge in spring. The largest portion of butterfly species live off nectar and will seek out warm, sunny areas with bright blooms.
Most of the host plants listed above will also provide adults with a source of food, but for additional suggestions see below:
Autumn flowering plants-Most red-flowered fynbos attract the mountain pride butterfly.
Other species:
Spring flowering plants:
A bird sitting on top of a grass covered field


If you are thinking of taking up a new hobby or just love the beautiful photo's then you can always follow the Highveld Butterfly Club or the Lepidopterists' Society of Africa. You can even book a butterfly safari at one of the local guide companies.

If you're a butterfly enthusiast join our fellow Candide gardeners by sharing your photo's with the hashtag #LocalButterflies

Migdoll, I. (1997). Field Guide to the Butterflies of Southern Africa. (2nd Edition). New Holland Publishers.
Woodhall, S. & Grey, L. (2015). Gardening for Butterflies: Planning and planting an insect-friendly garden. ( C. Alves & H. De Villiers, Ed.). Penguin Random House.
North American Butterfly Association. (29 June, 2020). The basics of butterfly gardening. NABA Butterfly.

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