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Native Plants for Birds, Butterflies, & You

Native Plants for Birds, Butterflies, and You!

To find birds and butterflies, you might just want to take a look at your garden. If you have any space, planting native plants is an easy way to help attract sustain both migrating and year-round resident birds as well as butterflies.

Why Native Plants: Native plants are:
  • Those that occur naturally in a region, before people introduced exotic ones from other parts of the world. The native plants of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) are distributed throughout Hidalgo, Willacy, Cameron, and Starr Counties.
  • Naturally adapted to our region's climate, with its high temperature during the summer months, frequent droughts, and occasional freezes and floods. Once established, native plants require less watering.
  • Adapted to our soils, requiring less use of fertilizers.
  • Easy-to-maintain plants, compared to many non-natives.
Helping Birds and Butterflies:

Although we tend to make gardens for birds or for butterflies, often gardening for one will attract the other. Native plants provide:

  • Shelter to hide from predators
  • A place for their young to develop- Butterflies must lay their eggs on leaves so that their caterpillars can begin feeding once they hatch. Adult butterflies are very specific to where they lay their eggs, and what they eat as caterpillars. Plants where they lay their eggs and feed on as caterpillars are called host plants. Host plants may be a specific plant or a group of related plants. Butterflies can only survive if they can find this specific native host plant in their environment.
  • Food- As a direct source such as fruit and seed for some birds, or nectar for adult butterflies and hummingbirds.
  • By harboring insects, which are an important protein source for birds. In general, native plants in a given area will harbor more insects than non-native plants. Birds such as wrens, warblers, and flycatchers feed only on insects. This is the case of birds such as the Clay-colored Thrush, Curve-bill Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, Altamira Oriole, Plain Chachalaca, and Green Jay, among others. Hummingbirds feed on nectar, small spiders and insects.
  • The importance of Caterpillars- one major type of insect that all birds need is caterpillars. All baby birds are feed caterpillars: they are soft and high in protein and carotenoids. Birds must have access to caterpillars, which is why it is important to include host plants in your garden. By including host plants, you are helping continue the life cycle of birds and butterflies.
Important reminders for Gardening:
When planting for birds and butterflies, it is important to:
  • Avoid spraying pesticides on the plants.
  • Include water features for the birds, such as baths, and misters.
  • Add surface such as rocks, since butterflies like to bask in the sun.
  • Include a shallow plate with sand, mud, and water. Male butterflies need to puddle, that is, absorb minerals from mud in order to be able to mate.
  • Plant natives with large and small flowers to provide different nectar sources so that butterflies of sizes can feed in your garden!
  • Expect some leaf damage as caterpillars eat leaves from your host plants. New leaves will regrow! This is what should occur in a functional native garden as this is what occurs in nature.
  • Consider using drip irrigation in a butterfly garden if you choose to irrigate, as water from sprinklers will dilute the nectar in flowers. It will also help conserve water.
Native Plants Matter!
All Valley native plants: Will help attract birds because they HARBOR MORE INSECTS than non-natives ones.
  • Will HELP SUSTAIN INSECTS, which help support spiders, birds, and other wildlife. Everything in nature is related
  • Will HELP REPAIR THE ENVIRONMENT, which is very important since an estimated 95% of the native habitat in the Valley was degraded or destroyed in the last century due to wide variety of land use of land use practices.
  • Give us our regional identity- OUR SENSE OF PLACE! Some of the LRGV's native plants are unique to this area and, therefore do not naturally occur in any other part of the planet let alone Texas. Keep the Valley Wild! Nowhere else in the world looks like home.

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