Butterfly gardening in Tenerife to help the Monarch Butterfly

Gardening for butterflies in Tenerife

Jane Kilcoyne who lives in Chayofa is a butterfly enthusiast like me and has been doing what she can to help the Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) here on Tenerife in the sunny Canary Islands.

Jane thinks of these beautiful insects as "blessings," and blessings are something she knows a lot about because her business is greeting cards. Greetings and blessings and pretty butterflies all go together so well to my mind too!

Canary Islands butterflies release

Butterfly and milkweed photos

Butterfly welcoming mat
Butterfly welcoming mat
Jane's butterfly garden on the balcony
Jane's butterfly garden on the balcony
Butterfly message on a poster
Butterfly message on a poster
Milkweed baby plants
Milkweed baby plants
Monarch on onion flower
Monarch on onion flower

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Tenerife Sun

Jane got in touch with the Tenerife Sun after reading one of my articles and kindly invited me to her house where her passion for butterflies is evident even before you get into the garden areas. There are butterfly artworks, butterfly ornaments and a butterfly doormat, and I felt I was stepping off it into the magic of the butterfly world Jane was creating.

Jane showed me her rooftop garden and balcony where over 200 Monarchs have been raised with the caterpillars eating the Scarlet or Curacao Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) that she has provided for them. And it all started with a small seedling, Jane told me, a seedling of Milkweed that came up in the soil around another flowering shrub she had bought.

A mother Monarch had found the Milkweed plant that Jane had left to grow and the insect had laid her eggs on it. The caterpillars hatched and ate and ate until they changed into chrysalises and then from them emerged the first brood of Monarchs from Jane's Tenerife balcony garden.

Passion Flower

That was over a year ago, and since then the butterflies have kept on hatching out and laying more eggs and there are now hundreds of empty chrysalis shells attached to woodwork and fencing or hanging from leaves and stems of the climbing plants growing there. Jane told she has the Passion Flower (Passiflora edulis) because it has foliage with big leaves ideal for the caterpillars to pupate under, and likewise she grows Hibiscus (Hibiscus chinensis) for the same reason and for the flowers to attract the adult butterflies.

Gardening, or in this case butterfly gardening, is something you learn about as you go along - it is a process of getting in touch with the wonders of the natural world and learning about its mysteries. Jane had discovered that the adult Monarchs love to feed from Onion (Allium cepa) flower heads, and although there were none in bloom when I visited her garden she had a photograph showing a butterfly feeding on one such flower.

I had discovered in my own efforts to rear Monarch caterpillars that the stripy little creatures eat a very large amount of leaves and quickly strip the plants they are on. For this reason, Jane has wisely taken to growing plenty of seedlings of the Milkweed, and she keeps them indoors so they get a chance to grow before they become future caterpillar food.

Peacock butterfly

This is what it's all about really - providing the right food plants for the caterpillars and flowers with nectar for the adults to feed from. In the UK many people who are doing their bit to help wildlife have a patch of Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) in their gardens so that Peacock (Vanessa io), Small Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis urticae), Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) and Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterflies all have food for their caterpillars.

The same thing applies here on Tenerife where Nettles are the food plants of the two species of Red Admiral with the additional Canary Red Admiral (Vanessa vulcania) being a butterfly endemic to the islands. The butterfly gardener can grow Nettles as well as Milkweed and will then be helping even more species to survive and brighten up our days, and there is a special endemic Canary Islands Nettle (Urtica morifolia) that grows wild in the forested areas.


My friends Emily Weston and Fernando Lorenzo in Las Lajas in the north of Tenerife have these Nettles growing on some of their land at the Mazar Ribah cultural centre and the couple are also cultivating Milkweed as well as a Buddleia or Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii). So is Jane, in fact she has more than one, and she told me they are on sale here from some garden centres.

The Butterfly Bush produces colourful spikes of purple, lilac or white flowers that give off a strong perfume that butterflies simply adore, and hence the plant's name. Jane gave me some cuttings and I am looking forward to growing my own.

I am also looking forward to seeing the numbers of Tenerife butterfly gardeners growing and it is a real joy meeting with so many like-minded people in the north and south of the island. I have a dream that one day Tenerife will be known as the "Island of the Butterflies," and we are certainly on our way to making it happen!

Footnote: First published in the Tenerife Sun

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Comments 14 comments

CJStone profile image

CJStone 8 years ago from Whitstable, UK

Hi Steve, I just wanted to tell you that when the notification of this hub came up  was listening to Prince. When Doves Cry, on the radio, and these words came up simultaneously

Touch if u will my stomach Feel how it trembles inside You've got the butterflies all tied up Don't make me chase u Even doves have pride

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

It's another one of those synchronicity signs! Thanks for letting me know! The Monarchs have survived here but are very down in numbers. I saw one the other day in Puerto and one down by the front here. I am hoping a female will eventaully find my plants and start the cycle again. This time I am well-prepared with hundreds of seeds and well grown plants to start with!

compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

Island of Butterflies! That truly sounds and would look awesome!

I, as a child used to love chasing butterflies, to then flatten them in my butterfly book and if people still continue to do this "hobby" will this jeapordise the future of having lots-more butterflies not just in tenerife, but everywhere butterflies fly and where they also squash them to collect dead insects!?,,,I now find them to be the most beautiful things with wings! other than ripplemakers wings (she may pass by this hub, and shes my angel!)

Thanks for giving me soo much nice memories of the past;)

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

You're welcome!

I have read recently that butterflies in the UK are down by as much as 70% and this I can believe - in the years before I left I saw no Wall Butterflies, Graylings, Small Coppers or Small Heaths, all of which used to be common and which have vanished from around Cardiff. I read news that in a Tenerife newspaper!I think it's the case worldwide that they are having a very hard time. I have also read that butterflies are a sign of how well the ecosystem of an area is doing so if they are not seen it is a warning sign! Since I had that article reproduced here published I have seen the reverse of my dream happening and there are now far fewer butterflies here despite Jane and my efforts! As I see it the main problem is lack of foodplants for the caterpillars.

sixtyorso profile image

sixtyorso 8 years ago from South Africa

Lovely hub evoking great memories. The song "Butterfly Kisses" by Rob Carlisle reminds me of my grandaughter and her father (my Son). The Butterfly Effect (in literature) has had a profound effect on my thinking. In  South Africa, tiny white butterflies cross the country for days on end. It is an amazing sight.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for posting! I am glad to hear it!

compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

Bard, that ststistic "70% does not surprise me! i hardly see Buterflys just as much as rainbows!" I wonder if that's a coincidence!

Thanks for the additional news and good luck with all your efforts in being a part of this prob!

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I don't see any rain to see rainbows here! I used to see plenty of butterflies and rainbows! It is sad that these beautiful parts of normal life are missing!

marisuewrites profile image

marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

this inspires me to do the same...lovely garden and very touching thing to do...helping these beautiful little flying flowers. =))

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks for posting, Marisue!

Yesterday I had to visit a town here called Santa Úrsula and was delighted to find that Milkweed was growing in several gardens and in two public flower borders and outside a flower shop. I saw plenty of Monarchs but no caterpillars but I found out why - wasps! I have seen wasps here take caterpillars before. This is fair enough and obviously they are a natural control. Where I was I must have seen about 10 butterflies in a small stretch of the main road so there must be enough caterpillars that the wasps miss. Also this gives the plants a chance to flower and seed properly and there were plenty doing that ensuring that seeds will be carried elsewhere! I didn't find the place I was looking for but this made up for it!

wyngs2fly 8 years ago

Good information; I enjoyed this very much. wyngs2fly

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you!

Tom Paterson 8 years ago

Quick note for Jane in Chayofa - from Tom and Pablo in La Laguna, we met the other day in El Médano. If you´re free tonight, Thursday, 4th Dec, the choir Camerata Lacunensis is giving a XV anniversary concert at 8.30pm in the Ermita de San Cristóbal, Plaza Milagrosa, La Laguna. Free entry. Would be lovely to see you again - like a butterfly, drop in to visit us and bring us some good luck for the performance!

Hope to see you.

Here´s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NF8zfnczyYI

Dentro de la "Programación de Otoño" de los "Conciertos en la Ermita de San Cristóbal" patrocinado por la FUNDACIÓN CANARIA MAPFRE GUANARTEME. Camerata Lacunensis ofrecerá un concierto, con una amplia muestra de su repertorio, el próximo Jueves día 4 a las 20:30 en la propia Ermita de San Cristóbal (Plaza de La Milagrosa). La entrada será libre hasta completar aforo. La FUNDACIÓN CANARIA MAPFRE GUANARTEME cierra, con este concierto, las jornadas interactivas "literatura y Música. Acordes Armoniosos". Ciclo de conferencias y música que ha venido desarrollando desde el día 24 de Noviembre en la Ermita de San Cristóbal con el apoyo del Obispado de Tenerife. Para Camerata Lacunensis, este concierto sirve de extraordinario colofón a su XV aniversario. Casualmente la fecha del concierto coincide hasta en el día, prácticamente, con la fecha de su fundación. Y para presentar ante el público canario, ahora que entramos en fechas de hacer balances, lo que ha sido, sin duda, el mejor año para el grupo desde su fundación por Conrado Álvarez allá por 1993. En épocas de crisis ver que hay grupos culturales no profesionales que se mantienen y progresan, cuando sus propios componentes sufren como cada cual en su vida privada, los embates constantes del día a día; es un motivo de esperanza para todos.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 8 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I have emailed your message to Jane so I hope she gets it in time!


hi Steve... the world gets smaller... am flying to UK today - so wont able to join you guys... how kind of them / you to think of me... please give them my love... hug to you too :-) jane xxx

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