Butterflies: Striped albatross

striped albatross butterfly

Striped albatross

Appias lyncida

Flying low but cautious, the males wings are striped with black on a pure white ground. At the base of the forewing is a faint spot of yellow. The females are a less stark contrast, dark brown stripes are dusted on a gray tinged ground, with orange yellow diffusing through the hind wing. One of the easiest butterflies to attract to a garden, as the host plant is the common Maman Ungu wildflower.

Food items: Nectar (as butterfly), host plant (as caterpillar)

Host plants: Cleome rutidosperma

Microhabitat: Gardens, roadsides, secondary growth and forests

Ecological Function: Pollinator

Food chain level: Primary consumer

Dispersal: A strong flier that can cross urban areas.

Striped albatross (Appias lyncida)
(underside)

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Butterflies: Common grass yellow

common grass yellow butterfly

Common grass yellow

Eurema hecabe

A flutter of light sulphur wings, this erratic fast flying butterfly is a common sight in gardens. It has a variety of hosts, so it can take advantage of many ornamental and wild trees. Its yellow wings are dotted with brown spots on the underside and the upperside front wings have a dark chocolate brown corner.

Food items: Nectar (as butterfly), host plant (as caterpillar)

Host plants: Pithecellobium, Cassia, Moullava, Acacia, Caesalpinia, Albizia and Sesbania

Habitat: Gardens, roadsides, secondary growth

Ecological Function: Pollinator

Food chain level: Primary consumer

Dispersal: Likely it has limited dispersal range, but it can move through open areas and road verges

Common grass yellow (Eurema hecabe)
(underside)

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A Beginner Butterfly Garden

A beginner’s butterfly garden uses host plants and flowering plants that grow wild. Shade is not an issue for many of these butterfly species here since they are adapted to living in hot open areas. Because this garden uses wild plants, it requires almost zero maintenance (except for occasional trimming).

For aesthetic value, you can hide the host plants behind or between ornamental plants, or use them as verges (edge or border plants).

Some of these butterfly species may already be present in your gardens. But enriching your garden for butterflies can bring them closer for you to view.

Target butterflies

This garden is suitable for sustaining populations of these species of butterfly.

Passionflower butterflies

These are recent introductions to Malaysia; they can use passionflower vines as a food source for their caterpillars

Coromandel and Cleome butterflies

These butterflies have a variety of host plants but they can use coromandel and cleome as host plants.

Lawn butterflies

These butterflies lay their eggs in lawns on low growing plants that can withstand being mowed.

Roadside tree butterflies

These butterflies can use common roadside trees as a host. This means that you don’t have to plant their host plants but they will still be attracted to your garden.

Host plants

Common four rings use grass as a host plant. A pesticide free lawn is enough to sustain these butterflies

This is the list of host plants that can be planted in a beginner butterfly garden. You can choose to plant all or just some of them. A few of these are common urban wildflowers.

Passionflowers are creeping vines that can be grown on fences. Sometimes they can be found growing on the borders of drains or other plants.

Coromandel and Cleome are two easily grown wildflowers that are almost everywhere and require almost no maintenance. They grow low and won’t take over your garden, so a small patch or planting them between pots is possible. Both these plants produce seed pods that can be easily harvested from patches of wildflowers.

Lawn plants like grasses and some plants that grow together with grasses, such as Semalu and Desmodium, are also used by lawn butterflies.

Target butterfliesHost plant species
Passionflower butterfliesCorky passionflower, Passiflora suberosa
(other ornamental passionflowers can also be used as long as you don’t mind caterpillars)
Coromandel and Cleome butterfliesCoromandel, Asystasia gangetica (ornamental varieties are available if you would like to use them instead)
Purple Cleome, Cleome rutidosperma
Lawn butterfliesSemalu, Mimosa pudica
Desmodium
Goat grass, Ishaemum muticum
Roadside tree butterfliesAcacia
Raintrees, Albizia
Cassia
Desmodium is a host plant for the Tiny Grass Blue butterfly. It also enhances soil fertility and can grow in between grass in a lawn.

As with wildflower patches, allowing other plants to grow in between the host plants helps to fertilise the soil and lower the need for maintenance. Let it grow wild without pesticides and you might get additional biodiversity such as stingless bees and ladybugs.

Flowering plants

Little ironweeds can survive in degraded land and are very attractive to pollinators

Coromandel flowers can double as a nectar source for adult butterflies. Easily grown wildflowers such as Goat weed, Cupid’s shaving brush, Tridax daisy and Beggarticks are suitable sources of nectar since they are almost always flowering.  Since all of these are from the sunflower family, they produce dandelion like seeds that reseed the plot after the wilt.

The seeds can be harvested from wild patches and placed in a plot.

Tridax daisies are hardy plants that are used by a wide variety of pollinators

This article is supported by The Habitat Foundation Conservation Grant

Butterfly Gardens: Key Concepts

Butterflies are nice to have in a garden, they help to make it feel alive with colour and movement. They also become food for birds and carry out important pollination of plants.

To have butterflies in a garden, you have to meet the requirements of butterflies. In no particular order, the requirements are: host plants (for caterpillars), flowering plants (for adults) and suitable amounts of shade.

Host plants

These are plants that caterpillars feed on before they become butterflies. Many butterflies have specific host plants, while some common species have a variety of plants that they can feed on. Sometimes the host plants of butterflies are plants that we eat or use for decoration.

coromandel and pollinator
Coromandels are host plants for many urban butterflies

If you are preparing a butterfly garden, please tolerate a few chewed up leaves. Natural predators like wasps and birds can help to keep caterpillar numbers manageable, so preparing habitat for them too can help to bring a balance to your garden.

Flowering plants

butterfly feeding on Bidens alba nectar
Allowing wildflowers to grow in your garden is a good way to ensure a consistent source of nectar for butterflies

Plants which regularly flower are very attractive to butterflies. These flowers are not necessarily big, but they usually occur in clusters that the butterflies can walk across.

Wildflower patches are a simple way to make habitat for adult butterflies to feed, although edible plants such as Ulam raja and some ornamental flowers such as Lantana, Ixora and Saraca are attractive to butterflies as well.

butterfly and a cluster of flowers
Clustered flowers are very attractive to butterflies

Shade

Butterflies are cold blooded creatures, so they control their body temperature by exposing themselves to sunlight. However, too much sunlight can be harmful to them. Many species of butterflies prefer shadier conditions where they can rest and cool off. Some forest butterflies never leave the shade of the forest, while open area butterflies can tolerate intense heat from the sun. 

Keeping these three things in mind will help make your garden a suitable habitat for butterflies. However, you can meet the requirements of some species of butterflies and still not get a desired species. This is because butterflies have to get to your garden, and usually, species that are more sensitive to urban environments may need pathways from forest patches that they can safely migrate through. So it is good to keep in mind that connectivity to forest patches is a good way to ensure that butterflies can establish themselves in home gardens.

If you want to experiment with these concepts, you can try planting a beginner butterfly garden that attracts very hardy urban butterflies.


This article is supported by The Habitat Foundation Conservation Grant

See also

Wildflowers: Purple composites

Top (Left to right): Siam weed, Chromolaena odorata & Goat weed, Ageratum conyzoides

Bottom(Left to right): Cupid’s shaving brush, Emilia sonchifolia &
Tropical fleabane, Cyanthillium cinereum

Plants with small, fluffy purple or white flowers. They can be found almost anywhere, favoured by beekeepers for the pollen and nectar they produce. They are grown to prevent Lalang growth but they can crowd out native plants. They are poisonous to vertebrates.

Status: Least concern, invasive

Habit: Herbaceous

Cultivation: Planted by seeds or transplanting

Ecological Function: Attracts pollinators, ground cover

Pollinators:  Large bees, small bees, butterflies, flies, wasps

Soil: Sandy, loam, organic soils

Moisture: Well drained soils

Shade: Partial shade, no shade

Wildflowers: Monkey’s potato

Monkey potato ~ Rimanji

Plectranthus monostachyus

An upright plant from the mint family. It has oval leaves that occur in pairs opposite each other, and at right angles to the following pairs. It produces small purple flowers at the top end of stems. The common name comes from nodules found on the roots of the mature plant.

Status: Least concern, Introduced (Tropical Africa)

Habit: Annual herbaceous

Cultivation: Planted by seeds or transplanting

Ecological Function: Attracts pollinators, ground cover, host plant for butterflies (Junonia orithya)

Pollinators:  Large bees, small bees, butterflies

Soil: Loam, clay, organic soils

Moisture: Well drained soils

Shade: Partial shade, no shade

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Wildflowers: Touch-me-nots

Touch-me-nots ~ Pokok semalu

Mimosa pudica

A creeping plant from the pea flower family. Its leaves respond to touch by drooping or closing up in defense. Each leaf is a compound leaf made up of many leaflets. Its flowers are purple-pink, ball-shaped and form clusters at the ends of stalks. It produces pods which bear seeds.

Status: Least concern, Introduced (Central and South America)

Habit: Annual

Cultivation: Planted by seeds or transplanting

Ecological Function: Attracts pollinators, nitrogen fixer

Pollinators: Large bees, small bees, butterflies

Soil: Loam, organic soils

Moisture: Moist soil

Shade: Partial shade, no shade

Wildflowers: Elephant’s foot

Elephant’s foot~ Tutup bumi

Elephantopus scaber

A plant from the daisy or sunflower family that grows well in shady areas. Its leaves are arranged in a circle at the lower part of the stem. It has tiny pale purple flowers at the top of erect stalks. Its fruits are small and dry with hair-like structures to attach to animals or people.

Status: Least concern, Native

Habit: Perennial

Cultivation: Planted by seeds or transplanting

Ecological Function: Attracts pollinators, ground cover

Pollinators: Butterflies, large bees

Soil: Sandy

Moisture: Well drained soils

Shade: Partial shade, no shade

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Wildflowers: Star of Bethlehem

Star of Bethlehem ~ Dedalu cina

Hippobroma longiflora

An attractive wildflower, originally introduced as an ornamental plant. However, the plant’s sap is poisonous. Its leaves have an elongated oval shape, a pointed tip and tooth-like margins. They are arranged in a spiral at the stem base. A single star-shaped flower with five petals grows on a stalk.

Status: Least concern, Introduced (Jamaica)

Habit: Perennial

Cultivation: Planted by seeds or transplanting

Ecological Function: Attracts pollinators

Pollinators: Possibly moths

Soil: Clay

Moisture: Damp soils

Shade: Full shade, partial shade

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Wildflowers: Tridax daisy

Tridax daisy ~ Kancing baju

Tridax procumbens

A common roadside plant that does not need a lot of soil or water to grow. It is a plant that helps nourish soils. Its leaves are arrow-shaped and have tooth-like margins. The compound flowers are yellow and white, at the top of long stems. Fruits are small and dry and have hair-like structures.

Status: Least concern, Introduced (Central America)

Habit: Perennial

Cultivation: Planted by seeds or transplanting

Ecological Function: Attracts pollinators, ground cover

Pollinators: Butterflies, bees, thrips, flies

Soil: Sand, loam, organic soils

Moisture: Dry soil, well drained soil

Shade: Partial shade, no shade

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