Over fifty species of butterflies have been seen in Central Park, including black swallowtails and monarchs. They're not only beautiful, but crucial to the health of the Park. Why? Because butterflies are pollinators, as are hummingbirds, bats, and bees. These beneficial birds, mammals, and insects fertilize plants, ensuring that the plants can reproduce.
Central Park is home to several gardens that are designed specifically to attract pollinators. Maria Hernandez, Director of Horticulture at the Central Park Conservancy, says, "Creating pollinator gardens involves planning a garden to attract, retain, and encourage them to visit. Selecting a variety of nectar-producing plants that bloom throughout the season is very important. Also important is including host plants that will provide a place for pollinators to lay their eggs and a food source for the emerging young."
In order for most species of butterfly to breed in the Park, their host plant must be present, since most butterflies will lay eggs on a specific plant. Most caterpillars hatching from the eggs will eat only the leaves of their host plant. By including plants that pollinators favor for food and shelter, we can help ensure that pollinators in Central Park reproduce.
Host plants include shrubs, trees, and grasses. Common milkweed is good for attracting monarch butterflies, since it’s a food source for both the monarch butterflies and their caterpillars. Some other hosts that do well in urban parks include black cherry, cleome, partridge pea, wild senna, and sneezeweed. Nectar-giving plants that we plant in Central Park include buttonbush, coneflower, sunflower, Joe Pye weed, phlox, lantanas, and salvias. Other good nectar plants are bee balm, marigold, lavender, and boneset. Some weeds, like dandelion and clover, also offer nectar favored by pollinators. To attract pollinators the Conservancy usually plants northeast North American native plants, but will occasionally plant non-natives, like a Buddleia native to China (also known as the butterfly bush!).
There are several places to see pollinators in the Park, particularly around the North Meadow. See you in the Park!