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Butterfly Gardening the Tenerife Way

Steve has been an online writer for over nine years. His articles often focus on the wildlife of Tenerife.

Monarch feeding on milkweed flower

Monarch feeding on milkweed flower

Monarchs Butterflies for Your Garden

Everyone enjoys seeing pretty butterflies flying in the sunshine and, here in Tenerife, we have some truly beautiful species of these winged wonders, including the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus), which is the most spectacular of all. This species has large reddish-orange wings that are veined with black—and its caterpillar is almost as colourful, having a yellow, black, and white candy-striped body. If you have a garden there are ways you can help attract Monarch butterflies and help increase their numbers at the same time.

Scarlet Milkweed

butterfly-gardening-the-tenerife-way

The Role of Milkweed

Adult butterflies need flowers to feed from but the caterpillars eat specific food-plants, and in the case of the Monarch this is any type of milkweed. The Tropical or Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) grows well in Tenerife, and it is because this flower was brought to the island and grown for its ornamental value in parks and gardens that the Monarch Butterfly was able to live here. Monarchs were not always found in the Canary Islands and without having food-plants for their caterpillars to eat they could not survive here.

So if you want to see these colourful butterflies, planting Milkweed is the best way to try. The Scarlet Milkweed has red and yellow flowers carried in bunches and adult butterflies will happily sip nectar from them, as will many other pollinating insects. Milkweed is a perennial plant and will keep growing from one year to the next. If you are lucky you might be able to get the plant from some garden centres here where it is sold as “Asclepias,” or an easy way is to buy the seeds online. Just Google the words “milkweed seeds” and you will find hundreds of entries of places where they are available from. There are always plenty of suppliers on Amazon and eBay that sell these seeds very cheaply.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar

Monarch Caterpillars Are Very Hungry

The caterpillars are very greedy creatures and will strip a plant of leaves and flowers too so the more milkweed you grow the better chance you have of feeding them. When they have eaten all they need they look for a place to spin a little pad of silk and then they hang themselves upside down and turn into chrysalises that rival the adult butterflies for their beauty. They are a delicate mint-green and have tiny metallic gold dots on them. Just before the butterflies are ready to emerge the chrysalises darken a lot and through the transparent outer shell you can clearly see the perfectly formed red and black wings of the butterfly inside.

If you don’t have a garden a terrace or balcony will do. I speak from experience because I once managed to see as many as 50 Monarchs fly from mine in just a week after I fed the caterpillars on plants I grew in flower-pots. It is a very rewarding experience knowing that you have helped increase the population of these beautiful insects in your neighbourhood.

Monarch chrysalis

Monarch chrysalis

Monarch chrysalis

Lantana camara

Lantana camara

Lantana camara

Butterfly Gardening Poll

The African Migrant and Grass Blue

Another ornamental shrub to grow is the Senna (Cassia didymobotrya). It has bright yellow flowering spikes. This is the food-plant of the African Migrant butterfly (Catopsilia florella). Like the Monarch this species was able to colonise Tenerife because a plant its caterpillars can eat was being grown here. The African Migrant’s female has creamy-coloured wings and the male is a pale yellow. It can be seen flying fast over shrub borders, especially in the south of the island.

If your garden is big enough for a lawn and it has White Clover (Trifolium repens) in it you may well see the dainty little African Grass Blue (Zizeeria knysna). This is a butterfly that does well in resorts and I have seen a thriving colony that lives on a lawn right by a shopping centre in Los Cristianos and another on lawns at the side of the road going into Puerto de la Cruz. Yes, you’ve guessed – the caterpillars eat clover. The adults feed from the flowers too and what we call a weed of lawns is food for butterflies!

African Grass Blue

African Grass Blue

African Grass Blue

Lantana

Besides growing milkweed for the Monarchs there is a shrub called Lantana (Lantana camara) that many butterflies love to feed from. This bush has yellow and red flowers or white and mauve in the same flower-heads but on different plants.

seeds” and you will find hundreds of entries of places where they are available from. There are always plenty of suppliers on Amazon and eBay that sell these seeds very cheaply.

The caterpillars are very greedy creatures and will strip a plant of leaves and flowers too so the more milkweed you grow the better chance you have of feeding them. When they have eaten all they need they look for a place to spin a little pad of silk and then they hang themselves upside down and turn into chrysalises that rival the adult butterflies for their beauty. They are a delicate mint-green and have tiny metallic gold dots on them. Just before the butterflies are ready to emerge the chrysalises darken a lot and through the transparent outer shell you can clearly see the perfectly formed red and black wings of the butterfly inside.

If you don’t have a garden a terrace or balcony will do. I speak from experience because I once managed to see as many as 50 Monarchs fly from mine in just a week after I fed the caterpillars on plants I grew in flower-pots. It is a very rewarding experience knowing that you have helped increase the population of these beautiful insects in your neighbourhood.

Besides growing milkweed for the Monarchs there is a shrub called Lantana (Lantana camara) that many butterflies love to feed from. This bush has yellow and red flowers or white and mauve in the same flower-heads but on different plants.

As well as being a popular flower for adult butterflies, the caterpillar of the Death’s Head Hawk Moth (Acherontia atropos) will feed on the leaves of the Lantana. This massive moth gets its name from the marking like a skull on its thorax. This moth was in the publicity posters for the film Silence of the Lambs. It can squeak and raids beehives to steal honey, and although it has a number of superstitions about it this weird insect is totally harmless. The caterpillar is the size of a man’s thumb and is yellow, green or brown with a spike on its tail-end.

First Published in the Tenerife Weekly, March 2013

Death's Head Hawk Moth

butterfly-gardening-the-tenerife-way

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Steve Andrews

Comments

Steve Andrews (author) from Tenerife on January 05, 2015:

Thank you so much, everyone, for all your great comments here!

VIJJJU from india on October 08, 2014:

yeah butterflies have good to touch and the hub is very clear to read and the butter flies are also beautiful in your photos. Congrats on hub of the day

Paula from The Midwest, USA on October 08, 2014:

I love to learn about the butterflies in different areas. Thank you for sharing about the butterflies and moths from your area, and sharing pictures. I think there is something very special about these winged creatures. I plant milkweed and other plants to encourage them to come to my yard. I think its great to encourage others to consider doing it simply by sharing ideas.

VJG from Texas on October 08, 2014:

Awesome. Simply awesome hub! I've seen Monarchs on our Lantana - it seems that we're on the path of the migrating Monarchs. Hoping to see more before the end of the season. Plenty of Milkweeds in my neighborhood. Actually, truth be told, it's pretty much just weeds.

Susie Lehto from Minnesota on October 08, 2014:

What a lovely hub for HOTD, congratulations. I love being able to watch the butterflies on the flowers in the gardens. Beautiful photos, BTW.

Stephanie Bradberry from New Jersey on October 07, 2014:

Congratulations on your Hub of the Day.

I always love having lantana in the garden. And I couldn;r figure out why butterflies were hanging around despite my butterfly bush not flowering. Now I know why. Thanks!

Anthony Altorenna from Connecticut on October 07, 2014:

Beautiful photos! Our garden attracts lots of butterflies, and my favorites are the Monarchs, Spice-tails and Admirals. The summer season is short, so you have to enjoy them while they're here!

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on October 07, 2014:

I loved your beautiful pictures. I have flowers in my garden to attract butterflies (like lantana) and also bees.

Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on October 07, 2014:

Oh, my! Now I know why I have a lot of butterflies in my Philippines garden. I have a lot of Lantana Camara flowers. Thanks for the useful and informative hub. Congratulations on the HOTD award!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 07, 2014:

Congratulations on your Hub of the Day Award. It is such a beautiful nature article allowing us to pay some attention to the monarch butterfly. Good information, good job!

Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on October 07, 2014:

Congratulations on HOTD. This is a wonderful hub. I really enjoyed reading it.

Eileen from Western Cape , South Africa on October 07, 2014:

Congrats on HOTD . lovely article and beautiful photograps !

RTalloni on October 07, 2014:

Congrats on your Hub of the Day award and for encouraging butterfly gardening. Am planning a new area after some construction that will be planted in flowering plants that butterflies love.

Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on October 07, 2014:

Two days ago we witnessed butterfly migration as dozens of butterflies passed across our yard from east to west, spaced out such that as one exited our property, another entered. It was fascinating. Next year I really want to plant milkweed to encourage monarchs to hang around. We used to see them frequently but not anymore. Thanks for the helpful information and congratulations on HOTD honors today!

Linda F Correa from Spring Hill Florida on October 07, 2014:

Lovely article and well deserved HOTD. I have many of the plants that you show and enjoy my butterfly visitors

PaynesGrey on October 07, 2014:

Lovely article, and beautiful photos. Thank you!

mySuccess8 on October 07, 2014:

These are beautiful butterfly species in Tenerife. This Hub has given excellent guides on its gardening, which I think can also be used as basis for attracting butterflies in other gardens. Congrats on HotD! And now I see there are many great Hubs by the same author describing the beautiful island of Tenerife!

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on October 07, 2014:

Congrats on your HOTD It is always good to learn more about the plants which attract butterflies. I love the caterpillars, almost as much as I do the butterflies. They make great photographic subjects.