Butterflies in a garden. Photo © Parks and Wildlife

South-west Australia has more than 60 native butterfly species, plus introduced species such as the cabbage white, monarch and orange palmdart. About 17 native butterfly species may visit your garden, especially if you live near their bushland breeding areas.

Growing plants eaten by the caterpillars in your gardens allows butterflies to breed and increase in number. For example, the larvae of the yellow admiral eat only native pellitory or closely related plants, such as nettles. All butterflies go through the same stages of egg, larva, pupa, adult—but different butterfly species need different plants for their larvae to feed on.

Most butterfly species in the south-west have only one life cycle a year, and the adult butterfly appears in spring or early summer. Some species, however, have several cycles a year, and the butterflies can appear at any season.

Butterfly food plants

If you live in Perth or elsewhere in the south-west, the species in the downloadable chart are the most likely butterflies to visit your garden. pdfDownload chart 265.68 KB

Coojong (Acacia saligna) is especially good for butterflies. Species that breed on it include the two-spotted line-blue, wattle blue, amethyst hairstreak, varied hairstreak and fiery jewel. Coojong supports many other insects as well, including 40 species of bug, 55 species of beetle and over 30 species of moth.

Green stinkwood (Jacksonia sternbergiana) supports the long-tailed pea-blue, the fringed heath-blue and the western jewel (if the right ants are present), and, like coojong, many other insects.

Nectar plants

Nectar plants may also attract butterflies to your garden and suit butterflies best if grown in sunny but sheltered spots. Nectar plants will not normally attract butterflies further than the distance they travel to seek food.

  • Nectar plants commonly visited by native butterflies include many daisies, such Western Australian waitzias (Waitzia spp.).
  • Other Western Australian plants include Grevillea crithmifolia, Pimelea ferruginea, grasstrees (Xanthorrhoea spp.), waitzias (Waitzia spp.) and Leptospermum, Melaleuca and Thryptomene species.
  • Geraldton wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum) attracts butterflies, but should not be grown if you live near a bush reserve, since it readily invades bushlands.
  • A few exotic species are good nectar plants. These include butterfly bushes (Buddleia spp.), but take care not to let them spread into bushlands. While butterflies visit lantanas (Lantana spp.), do not grow Lantana camara, since it too can become a bushland weed. Butterflies usually prefer flowers of plants native to the area.

Obtaining plants

Some native plant species that attract butterflies may not be readily available from most nurseries, but may be obtained from APACE, a non-profit, community organisation.

A word of warning: do not order seeds advertised online in pages about butterflies. These plants are usually unsuitable for our native butterflies to breed on—and have the potential to become serious weeds.

Further reading