Butterflies and Fruit Trees

Fruit attracts many species of butterflies. Although we can add fruit to our gardens in other ways, a fruit tree is a wonderful addition to a butterfly garden.

Many butterflies in the Nymphalidae family enjoy drinking fruit. Question Mark, Hackberry Emperor, Tawny Emperor, Red Admiral, Viceroy, and Red-spotted Purple are the species we find visiting fruit more than any other species in our area of north Florida.

If your yard is too small for a fruit tree and/or the tree is not producing fruit because it is out of season, you can add fruit to your garden without relying a fruit tree’s co-operation.

The first time we cut an apple and hung it in the garden, we were taking this Viceroy butterfly’s photo less than 30 minutes after it was hung in the tree. Because we removed only tiny slices of the apple, it didn’t dry out as quickly and lasted longer in the garden. The advantage of hanging fruit is that fewer ants and other crawling critters will find it.

A butterfly can only ‘eat’ liquid. Liquid goes up into its proboscis and into its digestive system. Because it cannot eat solid food, it normally visits fruit that is overripe and it has begun to decay. If the fruit is not liquid enough, they may pee on the food, turn around, and drink up the pee. Their urine will dissolve solid food.

Sometimes butterflies will find fruit that we haven’t recognized as fruit. Buckeye and Viceroy butterflies often drink the fleshy fruit covering Lantana seed. Lantana seed is poisonous to many mammals, including humans. Farmers try to keep this plant out of their pastures. Butterflies find it satisfying.

Many types of bird feeders are excellent butterfly feeders. This bowl is made for bird seed. It is on a metal stake that is inserted into the soil. Instead of adding bird seed, we added cut banana and apple. The disadvantage of this type of feeder is that ants can easily find it.

If ants are a problem and you wish to keep the feeders low, you can create a feeder with a moat around it. We used a clay pot saucer, turned a clay pot upside down on top of it, and placed a smaller saucer on top of the pot. We placed fruit in the top saucer.

Bird suet feeders are excellent butterfly fruit feeders. Instead of adding a suet block, simply add fruit chunks. Sometimes birds will also visit the feeder.

Tomatoes are actually fruit, not a vegetable. Most people think of them as vegetables. Butterflies know that they’re fruit. After a week of rain, our small cherry tomatoes were bursting even before they turned red. A Red-spotted Purple took advantage of the burst tomatoes. I normally use a camera with a lens that can zoom in on butterflies. Because all I had on me at the time was my cell phone camera, the photos of it feeding from the tomato aren’t as clear.

When you prepare fruit for a cobbler or to eat raw, you can place the peelings, seed, or other non-edible parts in your garden for your butterflies. If you place them on or close to the ground, raccoons, possums, and other animals may steal your fruit at night. If your fruit is hanging from a weak limb on a tree or shrub, there is less danger of these furry thieves assuming you supplied them with their supper.

If you buy a butterfly feeder, it can work in the garden! If you add fruit to the top of the feeder, as the instructions state, you will attract some butterflies. Inside the feeder you can supply butterflies with Gatorade, sugar water (14% sugar and 85% water), or fruit juice. A hummingbird feeder sometimes attracts butterflies and they feed from the feeder.

The last photo on this page is of a Pearl Crescent butterfly drinking from a butterfly feeder outside my window. When I work at my computer, I am sitting only 6 feet from the feeder and every now and again I see a butterfly enjoying the hummingbirds sugar water. Sadly, even that close, I cannot capture a nice photo through the double window pane.

Experiment with fruit and enjoy watching butterflies that may visit your garden simply because you did offer them fruit!