Designing the Butterfly House at Chatfield Farms

May 30, 2022 Jennifer Trunce , Manager of Horticulture at Chatfield Farms

Creating habitats for butterflies helps to preserve pollinator populations and brings colorful gardens to our outdoors. These habitats have specific environmental requirements and plant palettes to keep these beautifully colored insects thriving. The butterfly house at Chatfield Farms showcases butterflies that are native to Colorado so our visitors can understand their lifecycle and identify them when they are outdoors.  

An ideal habitat for butterflies would a sunny location with a water feature so they can “puddle” to obtain hydration and mineral nutrients. But the most important factor when designing a butterfly garden is the plant palette. They require both nectar plants and host plants for survival. Host plants, where butterflies lay their eggs, are vital for the butterfly lifecycle since they feed on these plants after hatching into a caterpillar.  

Plant characteristics and placement are very important so butterflies can recognize their nectar sources. Planting flowers by species and color makes it easier for them to see. While flat, open faced flowers with large petals provide sturdy platforms for landing and sipping nectar. Butterflies are most attracted to red, orange, yellow, pink and purple.  

Our butterfly house at Chatfield Farms is an inspected USDA containment facility. This means we must adequately contain this organism, especially since we are housing farmed butterflies. We don’t want any of these butterflies released into our native populations since they could spread pests and diseases. This also means that we cannot plant any host plants to promote breeding of these butterflies. Most of the species of Colorado native butterflies that live in the butterfly house have host plants that are also native plants. For example, the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) has eight host plants being willows, elm, hackberry, aspen, poplar, cottonwood, hawthorn and wild rose. Since we house over 14 different species in our house, this makes for a long list of plants that are banned from our garden design.  

Over the past eight seasons we have steered more toward designing with annual plants since they bloom all season long. A perennials heavy plant palette would not provide enough food for 300 butterflies living in the 1,500 square foot house.  

Visit the butterflies at Chatfield Farms and witness Colorado native butterflies in our bright, colorful garden. We change the garden design each year for a new experience each season. 


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