Gardening for butterfly caterpillars – Grass

26 February 2013

The foodplant used by more butterflies (and moths) than any other is grass. The families of butteflies that use it are the skippers – not so likely to be found in gardens unless you live near suitable habitiat – and the browns, including butterflies you might see in your garden: Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown.

Left to right: Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown

Left to right: Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown

“Well, that’s easy, we’ve got lots of that” I can hear you say – well, yes and no. If you are the type of gardener who likes a close-cut lawn with stripes, this is no good, and even the standard lawn isn’t likely to be ideal – the majority of lawns are mainly made up of rye grass, which is tough to withstand use, but no good for insects.

Annual meadow grass (photo: internet)

Annual meadow grass (photo: internet)

What you need are British native grasses, and I’d guess you need to let them grow, not mow them short, though my knowledge in this area is limited. Looking in the book “Foodplant List for Caterpillars” by Tim Crafer, the single grass which is eaten by the most butterfly and moth caterpillars is annnual meadow grass (Poa annua). I suspect you might have this inyour garden anyway, so it could be a good excuse to leave it if you are bored with weeding….

Other grasses used by butterflies include cocksfoot, couch, tor, yorkshire fog, tufted hair, dog’s tail,  and the fescue and bent families. Couch is one which really tests my butterfly-friendliness: my husband and I have spent two years digging through an herebaceous bed, removing couch and bindweed, so I’d have to say be careful with it – it forms the most amazing root mass, which forces other plants out: I found one piece which only showed about 2″ (5cm) above ground, but the root went on for over 6′ (2m).

Native grass seed/mixes are becoming a lot more easily available these days, sometimes with native wild flowers mixed in. Keeping the grasses, and flowers, you want from becoming swamped by the stronger-growing species is another challenge….

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