Doreen Fogle: Choosing and finding plants that support our butterflies |

Doreen Fogle: Choosing and finding plants that support our butterflies

Doreen Fogle

The largest butterfly reserve in America is in Texas, at edge of the Rio Grande at the southern border. It’s an area that’s said to be one of the most biodiverse areas in America.

The National Butterfly Center is a 100 acre privately owned project of the North American Butterfly Association that hosts up to 210 species of butterflies. Plus, it’s one of the largest botanic gardens of native plants that feed those butterflies. It’s open to the public and provides educational resources.

As I’ve written before, the plants native to an area provide the foliage needed to host (feed) the larvae of butterflies, moths, skippers and other insects. Butterflies, moths and skippers are Lepidoptera, the taxonomic order of insects they belong to.

The butterflies at the reserve are free, not housed, plus, it supports the monarch butterflies in their migration from the forests of Mexico to the northern U.S.

But the building of the border wall is threatening large areas of the National Butterfly Center, as well as the ecosystems of the entire area along the river. Eminent domain is resulting in the hasty degradation of this land. Without consideration for endangered species.

Not only is the proposed wall going in but an up to two mile wide swath of land will be stripped of vegetation on each side of the wall. This severely affects the ecosystems and removes the natural protection the vegetation gives the river bank against erosion.

Most of the butterflies would not be able to fly over the wall, neither would many of the birds, and other wildlife would be unable to roam as they need to assure genetic diversity and access their food supply.

I’ve only recently learned of this and it bothers me (immensely). And while our web of life is all connected, I’ll focus here on what we can do to help preserve biodiversity and help our Lepidoptera here in our own landscapes.


California has the richest diversity of plants in North America.

One San Diego man, Dennis Mudd, became aware that in his traditional landscape of lawn, palm trees and concrete he noticed he hardly heard birds, and he saw no animals. He would hit the trails on his bike out in the natural landscape and there he found the hills alive with plants he did not know, along with birds, insects and other animals. He wanted to bring them home. He set about finding the plants. Over several years he transformed his home landscape into an all native oasis — with the scents, beauty and wildlife these plants bring.

In the process of transforming and learning he built a plant database on all the plants that are native to his area. Once completed, he wanted more people to experience using natives in their landscape. So he donated an expanded statewide version to the California Native Plant Society (CNPS). It’s called The CNPS adds to it and maintains it.


To use Calscape you’ll start by typing in your address. This will bring up a page that shows all the plants, in a variety of categories, that are native to where you live. Go to a category, for example “shrubs,” and you’ll get a page of what grows here.

Here’s what you’ll find when you click on a plant: a map of where that plant naturally lives, a plant description, great photos, landscape use and care information, what wildlife it supports — especially the Lepidoptera — and you’ll find a link to the nurseries that carry the plant! There’s even a map that shows where these nurseries are! I’ll talk about how to make getting the plants easier in a bit.

Calscape’s Planting Guide has thorough information about how to plant and care for new native plants.


Click on Butterflies in the navigation bar, enter your address, and you’ll get a page that shows all the lepidoptera that are native to the area or even to your very own landscape. Are you feeding them?

Once you select a plant and see the Lepidoptera it supports you’d want to look at the map where each butterfly or moth lives and become aware of which ones actually live in your area. This way you can even plan to have several plants in your landscape that support the same butterfly. Or several.


Another great resource we have is the Redbud Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS). Their website,, has lots of information. Check out the Natives for Landscaping section, especially the California’s Native Garden Gems: California Native Perennials, Vines and Shrubs for Sierra Foothill Gardens with photographs that will make you yearn to get some natives.

And there’s information on events and plant sales. The Redbud Chapter puts on a plant sale every fall and they now sell plants at the Mother’s Day Plant Sale at the Miners Foundry!

Local nurseries are not always included on the list in Calscape. But they may indeed have them. And they may be able to get them for you. Wholesale nurseries supply the local nurseries so you can ask your favorite nursery if they can get a plant. Availability fluctuates so you may need to wait until a plant becomes available.

One wholesale nursery that delivers to most, if not all our local nurseries is Suncrest Nursery. You’ll find it as a source for a lot of the plants in Calscape. This lets you know that you might be able to get them through your local nursery.

Getting your plants through local nurseries saves you time and shipping expense. And it helps local nurseries know what local people want. (And keeps local dollars in town.)


Are you feeding them?

Take a look at your landscape. Do you have enough native plants to help maintain healthy populations of lepidoptera? Or have you been depriving them? Select some native plants to plant this year to bring them back and keep them around for the long term. And remember, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s been scientifically shown that it takes 70% of a landscape to be native to adequately supply the birds with the insects they need to rear a brood of young. Feeding the lepidoptera — butterflies, moths and skippers — helps a lot! A real lot.

Doreen Fogle is a landscape designer and writer in Nevada County. More of her articles can be found on her website and she can be reached at

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