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Butterfly Gardening the Tenerife Way

Updated on May 13, 2016
Monarch feeding on milkweed flower
Monarch feeding on milkweed flower | Source

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 with the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) being the most spectacular of all. This species has large reddish-orange wings that are veined with black and its caterpillar is almost as colourful with 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

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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

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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

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Lantana camara

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Butterfly gardening poll

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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

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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

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Tenerife

© 2014 Steve Andrews

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    • Tenerife Islander profile image
      Author

      Steve Andrews 2 years ago from Tenerife

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

    • bloggingvijay profile image

      VIJJJU 3 years ago from india

      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

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 3 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      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.

    • VJGSA profile image

      VJG 3 years ago from Texas

      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.

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 3 years ago from Minnesota

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

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 3 years ago from New Jersey

      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 profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 3 years ago from Connecticut

      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!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

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

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

      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!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      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!

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 3 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

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

    • eilval profile image

      Eileen 3 years ago from Western Cape , South Africa

      Congrats on HOTD . lovely article and beautiful photograps !

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

      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.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 3 years ago from Arkansas USA

      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!

    • linfcor profile image

      Linda F Correa 3 years ago from Spring Hill Florida

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

    • profile image

      PaynesGrey 3 years ago

      Lovely article, and beautiful photos. Thank you!

    • mySuccess8 profile image

      mySuccess8 3 years ago

      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!

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 3 years ago from Norfolk

      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.