Native Butterfly and Beneficial Insect Garden at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

On May 16, 2002, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) celebrated the official opening of the Native Butterfly and Beneficial Insect Garden. The garden, which is located behind the Blackwater NWR Visitor Center, was funded by the Dorchester Garden Club and was constructed by George Corey of Wye Tree Landscapes, Inc. of Easton, Maryland. With a grant provided by the National Fish And Wildlife Foundation and matching funding by the Friends of Blackwater, extension of the original garden pathway to tie into the new wing of the Visitor Center was undertaken during the spring and summer and completed in September. Addition of native plants with identification labels, rain barrels and interpretive panels allow for the continued development of habitat and increased viewing areas for visitors.

The garden features not only a wonderful selection of butterflies and butterfly-attracting plants, but also observation benches and a beautiful bronze monarch butterfly sculpture. This impressive sculpture was created by twin brothers Stewart and Steven Wegner of Wegner Metal Arts Inc. in Fredericksburg, Virginia (the brothers' portfolio includes the well-recognized casting of eight immigrants for the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island in New York).

The Friends of Blackwater and the Blackwater NWR staff are proud to offer visitors not only a chance to see a butterfly garden in action, but also an opportunity to learn more about creating their own gardens. If you'd like to learn more about some of the plants in the garden, see our garden plant list. In addition to the garden, the Refuge offers educational exhibits about butterflies and butterfly gardening, and visitors can purchase butterfly-related items in The Eagle's Nest Book and Gift Shop.

More about butterflies

In "The Family Butterfly Book," author Rick Mikula says, "The destruction of habitat is killing butterflies. The more asphalt we lay, the fewer butterflies we will see. The more wildflowers we replace with hybrids and ornamentals, the fewer caterpillars we will find. The more insecticides we spray, the fewer the wings that will fill the sky. Nine out of ten butterflies never reach adulthood. If the eggs aren't crushed or the caterpillars eaten, the adults will probably die of thirst or drown in pesticides somewhere along the way. Butterflies desperately need our help! They need healthy surroundings in order to survive."

Butterfly gardens

Butterfly gardens can be located in window boxes, indoor greenhouses, backyards, and even wildlife refuges like Blackwater! So if you're interested in creating your own little colorful oasis, read the following for some advice to get you started.

Adult butterflies need nectar, so the first step in attracting butterflies is to provide lots of nectar-producing flowers in your garden. The next step is to provide host plants where the females can lay their eggs and where caterpillars can feed. This ensures that you will keep the adults and young around for as long as possible.

Some other tips to help attract butterflies to your garden:

  • offer a variety of plants that bloom throughout the growing season
  • locate the garden in a sunny and calm location
  • provide water, preferably moving
  • offer shallow mud puddles where males can obtain soil minerals
  • include flat surfaces where butterflies can bask in the sun (butterflies can't fly when they're cold)
  • plant large-petaled flowers or bright clusters of small-petaled flowers with a mix of yellow, white, purple, and pink
  • offer leaf litter or wood piles as a shelter for the chrysalises and as protection for overwintering guests
  • avoid the use of pesticides in your garden

You can visit these websites to learn more about butterflies and butterfly gardening: