Bees get all the buzz whenever someone brings up pollination, but butterflies deserve some credit, too. In fact, there are some flowers that are pollinated specifically by butterflies.
What is pollination? Remember visiting flower parts a few weeks ago? Let’s look at the generalized diagram again:
(“Mature flower diagram” by Mariana Ruiz LadyofHats. Public Domain image at Wikimedia Commons.)
Pollination is simply the movement of the pollen made in the anthers (pollen shown as orange balls in this diagram on the right) to the top of the female part of the flower, called the stigma. Sometimes the physical distance between the two seems quite small, but many, many plants need the assistance of animal pollinators to achieve pollination.
Take the red bird of paradise flowers. The long, red threadlike structures are the anthers on very long filaments.
What pollinates such an odd flower? It turns out that when swallowtail butterflies drink the nectar of these flowers, they get pollen all over their wings. When they drink at another red bird of paradise flower, they pollinate it.
Other flowers pollinated by butterflies include phlox, many of the flat-topped flower heads in the daisy family (asters, zinnias, etc.), and the milkweeds.
Butterflies are attracted to flowers so they can feed on nectar.
1. Nectar Cups for Young Children
Let young children pretend they are butterflies and make nectar cups for them to drink from.
- Plastic or paper cups with tops that have opening for straws
- Construction paper or posterboard
- Flower shape stencils (optional)
- Juice or other drink to serve as nectar
1. Have the children cut flower shapes from the construction paper. For very young children, adults may need to help draw the flower shapes using stencils and to help cutting out thicker posterboard.
2. Use a sharpened pencil to poke a hole in the center of the flower large enough to accommodate the straw.
3. Fill the cup with the drink (“nectar”). Cap the cup and then put the straw through the paper flower center and into the cap of the cup. Allow the flower to rest on the cap, so the children can drink the “nectar” from the “flower.”
2. Investigate Pollination in the Butterfly Garden
Surprisingly little is known about butterflies and pollination. Older children may want to investigate butterfly pollination in their butterfly gardens.
Go out to the garden at the same time every day for at least once a day and count how many butterflies you see on a few different types of flowers over a given amount of time, say 15 minutes. Record the species you see with a camera. Graph your results and figure out which species of butterflies prefer which types of flowers.
(You might want to see a similar study for bees for ideas).
Be sure to check our growing list of links to information about butterfly gardening with children.