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Sunflowers are a summer staple and remind us all to look up and appreciate the nice weather. They also happen to be very beneficial for our gardens and feasts for the eyes! But, do butterflies like sunflowers?
Butterflies thrive on sunflowers. They are a perfect source of nourishment and rest and even operate as nurseries for them. You’re also likely to welcome many more pollinators with a strong crop of these tall blooms at the head of your garden.
Why are butterflies attracted to sunflowers?
Most sunflowers boast big, bright, yellow petals, although they can also be found in orange shades. Butterflies are naturally attracted to bright, colorful flowers in shades of reds, oranges, and yellows. Where possible, butterflies choose warm-colored plants and blooms to rest and feed on over blue and purple flowers.
Sunflowers are, by their very nature, extremely easy to spot. Many will grow as tall as ten feet – and that’s just the regular species! Giant sunflowers grow even larger. What’s more, as they face the sun, sunflower heads are open and obvious. This means butterflies are always likely to head to them for a feast before foraging elsewhere.
Sunflowers are annual plants that usually bloom in the summer, the perfect season for butterflies hunting for food. Their blooms can last for a very long time, often offering nectar well into the fall – this can be essential as many of the butterfly’s favorite flowers will have died off by the end of the summer.
Most importantly, sunflower heads are actually made up of many different nectar pockets. They have tiny, tubular-shaped flowers in their centers that are packed with nectar. This makes them the perfect shape for butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees to feed from.
Sunflowers are also flat enough for butterflies to land on, and what’s more, their tubes are deep enough for a butterfly’s proboscis to poke into. Despite the high pollinator competition around sunflowers, there are few other blooms that are so highly guaranteed to welcome butterflies.
Do sunflowers host butterflies?
Sunflowers make ideal host plants given their sheer size, the abundance of food available, and ever-bright colors. They are commonly used by American lady butterflies, silvery checkerspot butterflies, and more as makeshift hatching grounds and nurseries.
Host plants are those on which butterflies lay their larvae. The eggs then hatch, and caterpillars emerge. However, being young, weak, and unable to travel far, they spend their youth feeding on the same plant, eating through the foliage, and using it as a home base. Thankfully, sunflowers are large and nutritious enough to help butterfly larvae to grow and develop into chrysalises.
Do butterflies lay eggs on sunflowers?
Butterflies commonly lay eggs on sunflowers thanks to their reputations as nursery plants. American lady and painted lady butterflies are particularly well-known for using sunflowers as host plants and depositing eggs therein.
However, it will come as no surprise that butterfly larvae, once hatched, can easily eat their way through the foliage and even damage the sunflowers. While they will not necessarily kill them, they can halt their growth and weaken them significantly.
Despite this, it is vital not to cover sunflowers in pesticides or even try to prevent butterflies from laying their eggs on their surfaces. Instead, try planting them among various other butterfly-attracting flowers as protection.
You may occasionally have to pick off the caterpillars yourself and place them onto other flowers, but it will help to keep them safe and well-fed – and your sunflowers ever-growing.
If you happen to be growing sunflowers in your garden this year, take the time to scan them for caterpillars. Ensure that there is not too much damage before moving the caterpillars over.
Is it easy to grow sunflowers?
Growing sunflowers is simple, providing you plant them in the full light of the sun (hence their names), and that you do so within USDA zones four through to nine. These plants will be the hardiest in these zones of the US, though they can grow well elsewhere.
Be sure to start planting sunflowers in the spring so they can start blooming and attracting butterflies in the summer. They are quick growers, meaning you will need to act fast to stake these plants up in case of wind.
Deadheading sunflowers isn’t always recommended, as even spent flowers can still attract pollinators. Therefore, water them carefully, and leave them a little longer than other blooms before removing them.
Sunflowers come in a range of sizes and heights, so pick a species or type that you know you’ll be able to see around your garden. Butterflies will generally be grateful for sunflowers growing at head height, as they tend to prefer fluttering a few feet above the ground.
Are sunflowers the best flowers that attract butterflies?
Sunflowers are among the best flowers that attract butterflies for many reasons but consider growing lilacs, roses, verbenas, snapdragons, and hibiscus for a little variety. Butterflies, like us, demand a varied and balanced diet. Growing sunflowers alone won’t sustain them, although they are the perfect breeding and feeding grounds.
This is partly because sunflowers are some of the most popular blooms in the garden – and not just with gardeners. Given their abundant nectar, accessible shapes, and statures, these flowers appeal to the most common pollinators in US gardens. Bees, wasps, hummingbirds, and butterflies will all head straight for sunflowers.
Therefore, break up the competition a little. I’d personally suggest sunflowers are the closest you may come to a ‘favorite’ flower of the butterfly – but the truth is, no one bloom takes the prize.