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Butterfly Garden

The Virginia Living Museum Butterfly Garden contains over 60 species of plants native to Virginia that are important to our native butterflies. This includes trees, shrubs, vines and perennials that produce either nectar for adult butterflies or food for butterfly young (caterpillars). This outdoor garden attracts numerous wild butterflies.

Note: This is NOT an enclosed Butterfly House.

Nectar plants were selected in a variety of heights, colors and blooming periods to offer something for as many kinds of butterflies and for the longest period of time, as possible. Starting with blue phlox, golden ragwort and bluestar in spring; through purple coneflower, coreopsis, butterfly weed and spiderwort in summer; to asters, ironweed, Joe-Pye and goldenrods in early fall; and ending with swamp sunflower and turtlehead in November, this garden offers a continuous procession of blooms.

plant-arrowwood_viburum1Other native perennials include spotted horsemint, wild bergamot, cardinal flower, purple and swamp milkweed, cup plant, black-eyed Susan, green and three-lobed coneflower, false aster, blazing star, mountain mint, garden and smooth phlox, and many more. And shrubs like sweet and mountain pepperbush, possum haw and arrow-wood viburnum, nine bark, blueberry, New Jersey tea, silky dogwood and elderberry also provide nectar.

In addition, this garden includes a large selection of host plants. These are the plants on which female butterflies lay their eggs and which provide the necessary food for young and hungry caterpillars. Many butterfly species are very picky eaters, having only one or a few host plant species that their young can eat. Female butterflies know just what plants to look for, and a garden with the right host plants allows for many future generations of butterflies.

Some of the host plants incorporated into this garden include: pawpaw for zebra swallowtails, spicebush and sassafras for spicebush swallowtails, sweetbay magnolia for tiger swallowtails, heart-leaved Alexander for eastern black swallowtails, wax myrtle for red-banded hairstreaks, violets and passionvine for fritillaries, asters for pearly crescentspots, wild petunia for buckeyes, ironwood and ragwort for painted ladies, native wisteria for silver-spotted skippers, and willow for mourning cloaks and red-spotted purples.

plant-purple-milkweed2And of course the most familiar host plant, milkweed, is present in abundance. The garden includes four species of milkweed. These provide the food for monarch caterpillars and supply the bitter toxins that make both caterpillars and adult monarchs unpalatable to predators. Resident monarchs and those from further north pass through our area on their southward migration in September. Museum staff members participate in a tagging program designed to monitor monarch migration. Visitors in the fall may have the opportunity to observe the tagging and releasing of monarchs, and can watch for tagged individuals fueling up on nectar before their long journey.

The garden is a designated Monarch Waystation.

Many groups and individuals made this garden possible. The Mary Morton Parsons Foundation of Richmond donated the funds for the garden.

Denise Greene, landscape designer and owner of Sassafras Farm native plant nursery in Hayes, donated her services to create a landscape design that would fit the site – a small area between the Museum building and the lake, just outside the Cypress Swamp and Mountain Cove habitariums. Working closely with the Museum’s horticulture staff, she developed a garden plan that incorporates both mountain and swamp species so that the areas outside each habitarium relate to the indoor landscapes.

Members of the Kecoughtan High School Ecology Club, along with teacher/advisor Sally Lewis and a few parents and siblings, planted well over 200 perennials in November 2005.