Blooms, Bees and Butterflies

How to Encourage native Bees and Butterflies to visit your Garden

Spring, with its warm days and nights, heralds an almost frenetic activity in the natural world. The lovely new growth of plant leaves, the sweet perfume of freshly opened flower buds, the gentle hum of foraging bees and the flits of bright colour as butterflies move from plant to plant all indicate the intimate connection between living things. These interactions are often steeped in a long history of co-evolution. The red kamala tree, for example has separate male and female plants. The tiny, inconspicuous flowers form during late winter and early spring, their perfume attracting large numbers of different species of native bees. As the bees move between trees, pollen is transferred from the male to the female flowers, ensuring future generations. Meanwhile the bees are provided with food (pollen and nectar). So, the kamala tree depends on the bees for pollination and thus perpetuation of its species and the bees benefit from a rich food supply.

Blue banded bee heading for a flax lily flower – great for pollinating the vegie patch, particularly tomatoes.

Bees are not the only insects attracted to the flowers. Adult butterflies visit many nectar-producing flowers for their food source. Other species of plants are hosts for butterflies – their larvae or caterpillars eat the foliage.

In order to ensure bees and butterflies in your garden, it is important to include a variety of native plants, endemic to your locality that produce flowers during different seasons (to provide a continuous food source) and that are coloured blue, purple, white or yellow. Some bees seek flowers with tube shapes whilst others, and butterflies, like open and cup-shaped flowers. They also prefer sunny to shaded areas, protected from wind. Massed planting of a single species and staggering the heights of plants from low in the front to higher at the back of the garden bed are factors in producing good biodiversity. The most important thing is not to use pesticides – these might get rid of some unwanted insects but they are non-selective and will kill everything. Insectivorous birds and beneficial insects will reduce insect pests in the garden.

Papilio Aegeus Orchard Swallowtail

Plants worth considering that have a lovely floral display include:

Twiners, climbers and vines: Native Sarsparilla (Hardenbergia violacea) – host to the common grass blue butterfly; native wisteria (Callyera megasperma) – host of the pencilled blue and large banded awl butterflies and red passion flower (Passiflora auranti) – host of the white wing and cruiser butterflies.

Ground covers: Dwarf twiggy myrtle (Babingtonia virgata dwarf) – food for native bees and adult butterflies; emu foot (Cullen tenax) – host of chequered swallowtail and common grass blue butterflies; flax lilies (Dianella sp.) – food for native bees and adult butterflies and host plant for the yellow banded dart butterfly and the native violet (Viola betonicifolia) – host of the Australian fritillary butterfly.

Chequered Swallowtail Caterpillar

Low Shrubs (up to 3m):
Many wattles (e.g.  Acacia ambylogona, A. conferta, A. decora) will provide food for native bees and adult butterflies at different times of the year; the native indigo (Indigofera australis) – host to the grass jewel, common grass yellow, long tailed pea blue and common grass blue butterflies; sago flower (Ozothamnus diosmifolius) food source for native bees and the native broom (Jacksonia scoparia) – host to the fiery jewel, copper pencilled-blue and Cyrotus blue butterflies.

Buckinghamia celsissima (common name Ivory Curl Tree) with butterfly

Shrubs to 7m:
Wattles that flower in winter (e.g. Brisbane wattle, Acacia fimbriata), spring (Mudgee wattle, Acacia spectablis) or throughout the year (e.g. mountain hickory, Acacia penninervis) as well as Melaleuca, Grevillea and many Leptospermum species (e.g. wild may, L. polygalifolium) provide food for native bees and adult butterflies whilst also being a host plant to several butterfly species; the currant bush (Carissa ovata) – host to the common crow and the lime berry (Micromelum minutum) which is both a nectar source as well as host for the orchard, Canopus and Capaneus swallowtail butterflies.

Small trees to 12m: Small trees that provide nectar/pollen for bees and adult butterflies include the Curracabah (Acacia concurrens), hickory wattle (A. disparrima) and green wattle (Acacia irrorate). Each of these are also hosts to a variety of butterfly species. The plunkett mallee (Eucalytus curtisii), lemon scented myrtle (Backhousia citriodora), several paperbark species such as Melaleuca linariifolia (snow in summer) and Melaleuca viminalis (weeping bottlebrush) and pink Euodia (Melicope elleryana) provide copious nectar for insects and birds.

Article written and supplied by Paten Park Native Nursery.

Images Credit:; Kathy Langford PPNN

To purchase local native plants visit Paten Park Native Nursery, Paten Road, The Gap.

Website:  or call 3300 6304.