The largest butterfly I have seen in person was a giant swallowtail in the woods down at Lake Cumberland. This male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was even bigger and more beautiful. He was friendly and seemed unconcerned with me hovering around. He even let me touch him a few times.
I recently went to a seminar on the importance of native plants in the landscape and attracting butterflies and other wildlife to your garden. I have never really thought much about native plants. From Growing Natives:
"Native vegetation evolved to live with the local climate, soil types, and animals. This long process brings us several gardening advantages.
- Save Water:
Once established, many native plants need minimal irrigation beyond normal rainfall.
- Low Maintenance:
Low maintenance landscaping methods are a natural fit with native plants that are already adapted to the local environment. Look forward to using less water, little to no fertilizer, little to no pesticides, less pruning, and less of your time.
- Pesticide Freedom:
Native plants have developed their own defenses against many pests and diseases. Since most pesticides kill indiscriminately, beneficial insects become secondary targets in the fight against pests. Reducing or eliminating pesticide use lets natural pest control take over and keeps garden toxins out of our creeks and watersheds.
- Wildlife Viewing:
Native plants, birds, butterflies, beneficial insects, and interesting critters are “made for each other.” Research shows that native wildlife prefers native plants.
- Support Local Ecology:
As development replaces natural habitats, planting gardens, parks, and roadsides with natives can provide a “bridge” to nearby remaining wildlands."
There is a native plant database you can search to find plants for your area. You can also search by light requirements, soil type, etc. Luckily for me, my new house had very few flowers. I had an empty slate to do whatever I wanted. Not only am I thinking about native plants more, but I am choosing them specifically over other varieties whenever possible. I am also planting more host plants for butterflies.
Many people are also unaware how important host plants are to attracting butterflies to your garden. Some caterpillars only feed on one or two host plants. If we do not grow them in our gardens, the butterflies have nowhere to lay eggs for the caterpillars. No eggs=no butterflies. Here is a nice article from Rose Franklin on why we don't see as many butterflies hovering around as we did years ago.
You can find lists of butterfly host plants on places like The Butterfly Website. It is nice to plant the nectar plants and have butterflies passing through. If you want them to stick around for years to come, you might want to think about adding host plants to your garden.