Coastal Discovery Museum's Butterfly Habitat Plants

by - February 17, 2019

Last summer we went to Coastal Discovery Museum on Hilton Head Island. The entire visit was great, but my favorite part was the butterfly habitat. I photo-documented every plant whose name was unfamiliar to me (or rather nearly all the plant tags) so that I could look them up later and determine if they could be added to my own yard. 

Hilton Head is Hardiness Zone 8b, and Raleigh is 7b, which means that some plants may be hardy in Hilton Head but not in my yard. Many of the plants in the habitat were right over that line between 7 and 8, so they might work better as annuals. I didn't look up whether they could be brought inside for winter as my goal is to work with my local conditions. Another difference in the two locations is that my yard does not have very wet conditions, and the museum was located in wetlands. Plants with high water demands won't do well in my yard. Finally, I found that not all the butterflies in the habitat are present or common in Piedmont North Carolina such as Giant Swallowtail and Palamedes Swallowtail. 

Suitable for our yard:
'Toothache Tree' Zanthoxylum clava-herculis - Host Plant for Giant Swallowtail
'Blue Fortune' Agastache - Nectar Plant
'Mexican Petunia' Ruellia Brittoniana - Nectar Plant
'Pipevine' Aristolochia - Host Plant for Pipevine Swallowtail
'Mystic Spires Blue' Salvia - Nectar Plant
'Summersweet' Clethra Alnifolia - Nectar Plant
'Black Cherry' Prunus Serotina - Host Plant for Tiger Swallowtail

Wrong Growing Conditions or Zone for our yard:
'Red bay' Persea Borbonia - Host Plant for Palamedes Swallowtail
'Pentas' Pentas Lanceolata - Nectar Plant (non-native)
'Snow Squarestem' Melanthera nivea - Nectar Plant
Citrus - Host Plant for Giant Swallowtail
'Peach Porterweed' Stachytarpheta Mutabilis - Nectar Plant
'Firespike' Thyrsacanthus tubaeformis - Nectar Plant

Not Safe:
'Water Hemlock' Cicuta Malculate - Host Plant for Black Swallowtail

from the USDA: "Water hemlock is the most violently toxic plant that grows in North America. Only a small amount of the toxic substance in the plant is needed to produce poisoning in livestock or in humans. The toxin cicutoxin, acting directly on the central nervous system, is a violent convulsant. Clinical signs of poisoning occur when a threshold dose is reached after which grand mal seizures and death occur."


Our own butterfly habitat is an ongoing work. I've been trying to pull inspiration from the natural spaces I visit. Since this trip, I've added a couple Mexican Petunias, which I found super-discounted at a local nursery. I've also been adding varieties of milkweed, host for Monarchs, for several years now.  The first batch was from my parent's property in Tennesee, others have been started from seeds and from nursery plants. The Miss Huff Lantana, coneflowers and cosmos have always been big hits as nectar sources. This coming spring, I'm excited to see it the Joe Pye Weed, Ironweed and Cutleaf Coneflower (all inspired by time on the Virginia Creeper) return and attract more pollinators. I've also just learned that several other plants I've added in the past year are also host plants: Paw Paws for Zebra Swallowtail, Thistles for Painted Ladies, Passion Vine for Gulf Fritillary, and Sassafras for Spicebush Swallowtail. 

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