Life’s great up here in the tropics for the brilliant blue Ulysses Butterfly and the massive Cairns Birdwing butterfly because locals go out of their way to grow their host plants in the hope of attracting them to their garden. But what about the other 238 species of butterflies that occur in tropical North Queensland, let alone the tens of thousands of insect species which also call this place home? They may not be as iconic, but I think they deserve a little more attention too.
After all, we have some pretty amazing little creatures sharing this environment with us. For example, the Hercules Moth has the largest wingspan of any moth in the world. Yet how many people grow their host trees, the Queensland Bleeding Heart, with the aim to attract these record-holding moths? Not many I bet.
I guess for most people, unless it’s colourful and popular it’s just not worth attracting. I’m not suggesting you fill containers with water to breed mosquitoes, leave the bin lid open to attract flies, or spread sugar through the house to bring in the ants. I’m talking about all the fascinating little creatures that bring life to the garden. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, just think back to your childhood. The time in your life when you were much smaller and everything else was much bigger. Back then every butterfly was special, and every beetle deserved a second look and maybe a prod. Stick insects looked alien and fireflies were magical. Close to Christmas, cicadas became collectables, and every shiny beetle was obviously a Christmas beetle. And of course there was that bright blue butterfly that mum and dad pointed out fifty million times.
If you are interested in creating a garden that will attract our six legged friends, there is a difficult way, and an easy way to do it. If you’re willing to make the effort you can bury your head in books and surf the web to find which plant will attract which specific insects: Cassia and Albizia trees to attract Carpenter Bees, Pandanus monticola as food for the Pepermint Stick insect and Adenia vines for the Red Lacewing Butterfly just to name a few combinations. Or you can do it the easy way by planting any local native plants. It may not be very specific, but you’ll see that every plant will attract something, and in most cases when a native plant flowers it will attract a colourful assortment of fascinating little somethings. The more plants you add to your garden the more wildlife you’ll attract and the more interesting your garden will become – especially for the kids. After all in the eyes of a child a gigantic stick insect is much cooler than a blue butterfly. While as an adult, you’ll be surprised how rewarding it is to see a new butterfly in the backyard when you know you’re the reason it’s there.
(Published in Cairns City Life magazine, September 2009)