Book Review

Gardening for Butterflies: How You Can Attract and Protect Beautiful, Beneficial Insects

The Xerces Society.
2016 . ISBN 13-978-1-60469-598-4.
Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
Paper. 288 pp. $24.95.
Available from Timber Press

Gardening for Butterflies Cover

From the authors of Attracting Native Pollinators (2011) and Farming with Native Beneficial Insects (2014), the new Xerces Society book, Gardening for Butterflies, focuses on butterfly and moth conservation in a way that is both accessible and practical. The Xerces Society is an international nonprofit organization that uses applied sciences to research and advocate for invertebrates (including pollinators), thus has high credentials for creating an authoritative guide for pollinator conservation. As the title implies, the authors advocate providing host and nectar plants as well as habitat, enabling gardeners to help native moths and butterflies thrive in garden landscapes.

The book first introduces readers to problems facing moths and butterflies and, by extension, all pollinators. Most are human induced: loss and fragmentation of habitat and loss of diversity of nectar/host plants. I found this section painful to acknowledge, and it illuminated why our conservation efforts are so important. Everyone is familiar with the migratory monarch (Danaus plexippus), but there are many other species of butterflies (and moths) around the world that face similar challenges and need our attention if they are to survive. Consequences to the ecosystem of their loss can’t be predicted, but is certain to involve secondary effects to specific plants and vertebrates in the loss of pollinators or food sources.

The reader is introduced to taxonomic families of butterflies and moths, in separate chapters, with tips for identification illustrated with beautiful photos. This is not a butterfly/moth identification guide; there are other tomes dedicated to individual families, let alone the entire order Lepidoptera, for this purpose. I am pleased that the authors included moths in this work, as many of them are crucial pollinators of a variety of plants and a food source for many vertebrates such as reptiles and songbirds. Though the family descriptions are brief, they are concise and share the definitive details for each family. For example, brush-footed butterflies (family Nymphalidae) have small forelegs that lead the observer to believe they have only four legs.

Subsequent chapters focus on butterfly and moth plants, both as hosts and for nectar. An extensive, yet in no way exhaustive, list of native nectar plants is presented (86 pages!) with more beautiful photos and information on their role as host plants. The native range is given for each plant in the list of suggested plants for Lepidoptera, but it is not very specific and only by very large regions, such as "east of the Rockies to the Upper Midwest."

The book also includes tips on how to observe butterflies (which, in as few words as possible, is best described as “slowly”). It recommends contributing to citizen science campaigns, which are regional or national tracking campaigns that monitor populations of butterflies (and moths to a lesser extent) and other useful facets of their fluttery lives. In the appendices are lists for suggested reading and contacts for butterfly/moth related organizations around the country, as well as sources for native plant seed.

The scope of the book is the continental United States, so it lacks specificity for Oregon situations. I was pleased to see many Oregon natives included in the plant list, such as Eriophyllum lanatum, Monardella villosa, Sidalcea oregana, Solidago californica, and others. This is no surprise, perhaps, since the Xerces Society is based in Portland. However, their guidelines for creating a butterfly garden are appropriate anywhere. Suggested garden designs are offered for different habitats and climates (xeriscape, meadow, urban) with garden strategies ranging from preparing seedbeds to creating a kid-friendly butterfly garden. I will definitely use the latter for my two young daughters.

I absolutely loved this book and wholeheartedly endorse it. I love flowers, and I love pollinators, and the two require each other to survive. If you love wildflowers, by default, you also love native pollinators (even if you don't know it). I highly recommend becoming an active participant in butterfly and moth conservation; Gardening for Butterflies is your training manual! So go buy it now.

—Travis Owen, Rogue River, Oregon (

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