Gardening: Researching the winter days away for best butterfly plants – The Detroit News

Gardening: Researching the winter days away for best butterfly plants – The Detroit News

Nancy Szerlag
 |  Special to The Detroit News

In response to the newest twist in the COVID-19 pandemic, I am again choosing to play the part of what I call “home alone Joan.” Except for grocery shopping and exercising at a physical therapy establishment, along with working with a personal trainer, I don’t go out much. 

I took a very bad fall just as the pandemic hit in 2020   and did some serious spinal damage, so I have hardly been able to garden the past two years. Fortunately, my small but hardy band of volunteers kept the garden looking good, and we are on for another year. 

My good news is exercise is working wonders and my balance has improved to the point I no longer have a fear of falling, and my pain level is doable.

So, I’m very excited about getting out in the garden this spring and along with exercising, I’m continuing to go through my library of gardening books in preparation.  

This week, I’m reading “Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens” by Doug Tallamy (Timber Press). I think it’s a must-read for anyone who cares about the environment, especially gardeners who have taken up butterfly gardening.     

The alien buddleias, better known as the butterfly bush, are touted as one of the top nectar plants for use in butterfly gardens. Sadly, not a single species of butterfly in North America  can  reproduce on butterfly bush. On the other hand, massing species of Asclepius, members of the milkweed family, will provide food and are host plants for 12 species of Lepidoptera, including the much-touted monarch, and many remain in bloom from June through early September.  

Coneflowers and black-eyed Susans also wear two hats in a butterfly garden. Along with their attractive display and nectar, the rudbeckias are also host plants that support the reproduction of many species of butterflies. That’s the big difference between a host plant and a nectar plant.  

I searched for “Butterflies of Michigan” on the internet and found this, which included a guide featuring photos of butterfly species found in Michigan compiled from research-grade observations submitted to iNaturalist. Butterfly species are ordered by rank of abundance based on observations made by iNaturalist users. The guide was created spring of 2021 by the Jamieson Lab at Oakland University ( While probably not complete, it’s worth checking out.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Friday’s in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at</…….