Bring the butterflies home

If butterflies inspire you, here is how you can woo them to your frontyard or the mini-gardens in your backyard and balconies

Mumbai-based college student Aparna Singh Parihar calls herself a naturalist, given her interest in the world of butterflies. “I grew up in Jabalpur where, in our small garden, butterflies used to flit about our feet,” she says. But her new city only offers a small 4×6 feet balcony to stare out from. So, she read enough to understand what combination of plants in her balcony would provide food, shelter and breeding ground to the winged wonders.

She now mothers over a potted zinnia, champa, hibiscus, aloe vera and ornamental fern. “I am waiting as these are the best months to observe butterflies in action,” she says excitedly.

Over 1,000 kilometres away in Coimbatore, corporate trainer Anu Ajay was feeling lost during lockdown after her transfer from Chennai. “I am surprised at my new-found love for these winged beauties,” she says. Earlier, she was only in awe of their captivating colours and patterns and wondered if she would ever trek to a forest or visit a park to study the gorgeous insects. Now, she is developing a butterfly corner in her open sky verandah.

Flying colours Congregation of the winged visitors
 
| Photo Credit:
Sharan Venkatesh

She has planted curry leaf and basil saplings with idli poo and as she waits for them to bloom, she is brushing up on her knowledge through books and walks in the neighbourhood. “I have become more observant of local plants growing in the vicinity and am also making short audio-visual capsules on different families and common species of butterflies to share with friends and family,” she says.

“It is possible to attract butterflies anywhere if you conserve the natural habitat and focus on native flora… This will help sustain the common species of butterflies in our cities,” says Sammilan Shetty, conservationist and founder of butterfly park in Belvai near Mangaluru. “Our cities,” he says, “do not allow even a blade of grass to grow amid construction and traffic.” “Out of their love for the colourful insects or for the want of a patch of greenery within their small spaces, people can create their own butterfly habitats by planting the local flora and seeds," he adds.

Flying colours Lime swallow tail butterfly
 
| Photo Credit:
Shanthni Balu

Landscape consultant Shanthni Balu has switched to organic manure for her garden near Pollachi. She grows curry leaf, lemon, ginger, lily, turmeric and cassia, but was disappointed when the fluttering creatures did not turn up. “I learnt I need to go pesticide-free if I want to attract the common butterflies to my place,” she says and adds, “Once you understand and follow their life stages, diet, mating and migration patterns, it is fun wooing them.”

Agricultural entomologist S Rajkumar, too has developed a fabulous butterfly habitat in his mini garden at his Madurai home and hit the jackpot of a scatter of butterfly species.

“Host plants such as the lime and curry leaf tree were already here. All I did was add few fully grown nectar-producing flowers such as theidli poo (ixora) and crape jasmine (pin wheel flower) to support the complete life cycle of a butterfly,” he says.

Flying colours Citrus butterfly  
| Photo Credit:
S Rajkumar

“There is a renewed pleasure with which my wife now maintains the garden and my teenaged son photographs the graceful winged creatures. “We have become butterfly addicts. Last fortnight was spent chasing and identifying monarch and mormons, swallow tail, common crow, plain tiger, crimson rose, yellow pansy butterflies gliding in to animate our garden like never before," he adds.

More than 50 individuals from eight to 60 years were enthused by one week’s WhatsApp sessions on butterflies anchored by Sharan Venkatesh, the founder of Rhopalocera and Odonata Association of Rajapalayam (ROAR) and butterfly enthusiast Edward Eltham, who coordinates Nature engagement programmes of Chennai-based ezoneIndia. “We just had to convince the novices how easy it is to rear butterflies and guide them to grow native plants to attract and protect butterflies,” says Sharan. "The feedback is encouraging as the participants are updating us on their kitchen gardens, backyards, front lawns and mini-forests created in their balconies visited by the gossamer-winged friends now," says Edward.

Flying colours Common Jay butterfly
 
| Photo Credit:
Ishani Vivek

In the short time, Ishani Vivek, in Class VIII at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Coimbatore, learnt to identify all six families of butterflies. Chasing them has turned her into a good photographer, she says, unable to hide her excitement about photographing the smallest butterfly found in India — the oriental grass jewel — besides the blue mormon, common grass yellow and the lime butterfly in the hotspot she has developed to welcome butterflies in her garden.

“I spend hours by the guava tree where the castor flies in to derive its nutrition from the half eaten fruits left by the parrots,” she says and adds, “In school so far I learnt butterflies are important for the ecosystem. Now I know how to protect them and also conserve a unique biodiversity.”

Checklist for your butterfly habitat

Identify a sunny patch.

Get a set of host plants on which a butterfly hatches, feeds, pupates from egg to caterpillar to adult. Without host plants, they will go extinct.

Combine the host plants with nectar-producing flowers that supports the butterfly’s life cycle.

Create shallow puddles for drinking and place small flat rocks so butterflies can relax in the sun.

Do not use pesticides in or near a butterfly garden.

Plant guide

Hosts:Nerium, curry leaf, lemon/citrus, giant calotrope, Indian birthwort, ornamental palm, pongamia

Nectar plants:Ixora, zinnia, lantana, oleander, Jamaican spike, pagoda flower, the snakeweed, Heliotropium species

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