The Garden Commodore or Garden Inspector (Precis archesia archesia) is a common garden butterfly in Gauteng. There are two colour forms, the dry season form pictured here, and a wet season form pictured below.

Most gardeners enjoy having butterflies in their garden. Few gardeners realize that there is a lot they can do to attract them to their gardens. There are more than 650 different butterfly species found in South Africa, but fairly few are regular ‘garden’ butterflies. Some will pass through gardens but others will happily stay in gardens if their needs are provided. Many of these may not be large or showy, but others are large, conspicuous, colourful and bright. Butterfly gardening is

easy, fun and rewarding.

If you want to encourage butterflies, you need to be very careful with using insecticides in your garden. Butterflies are insects; both adults and their larvae are susceptible to these poisons. You have to accept that the larvae will eat and scar some leaves of their host plants.

Some butterflies never feed as adults, living on reserves stored while still larvae. The rest get their nourishment from drinking liquids. Many visit flowers for nectar but others are very partial to fermenting fruit, plant sap from plant wounds or even the moisture from fresh animal dung. Many drink water from puddles and wet soil.

To attract butterflies to your garden you need to provide food for adults and plant specific food plants for the larvae of specific butterfly species.

Some attractive plants that feed butterflies

Kiggeleria Africana (Wild Peach)

Kiggeleria africana is a well shaped, single stemmed tree that can be pruned up to make an ideal shade tree. If allowed to branch low down, it will make a good screening tree. Small to medium sized, it is semi-deciduous to evergreen. Feed and water regularly and it will grow quickly. Birds eat the seeds.

A Green Banded Swallowtail (Papilio nireus lyaeus) drinking water. Butterflies will drink water from ponds, birdbaths and muddy patches, particularly on hot days.
Kiggelaia africana, Wild Peach is a host plant for the Garden Acraea (Acraea horta). It is a small to medium sized tree that can be pruned to shape

The Garden Acraea (Acraea horta) is a very common garden butterfly in Gauteng wherever its favored host plant is growing.

This tree is the larval host of the Garden Acraea (Acraea horta). The leaves of the Kiggeleria contain small amounts of cyanide.  The Acraea caterpillar stores this cyanide in its body it to protect itself.  One group of birds, the Cuckoos, have overcome this defense and will visit Kiggelaria trees to feed on the caterpillars. In Gauteng Black-chested Cuckoo (Piet-my-vrou), Black Cuckoo and Diederik Cuckoo are often seen in these trees looking for the caterpillars.

Although the Wild Peach is cold hardy, we strongly recommend protecting young trees against the cold for the first 2 or 3 years after planting.


Plumbago auriculata  (Plumbago)

Plumbago auriculata is a scrambling shrub with large clusters of attractive sky-blue or white flowers. It is one of southern Africa’s best loved garden plants. Besides its showy display when in flower, it is a very versatile garden subject. It can be used in mass plantings, can be allowed to scramble in woolly gardens or pruned into shape in formal gardens. Although quite frost hardy, young plants should be protected in winter.

Not only do the showy flowers of the Plumbago feed adult butterflies, but the plant is larval host to one of South Africa’s most widespread and common garden butterflies, the Common Zebra Blue (Leptotes pirithous pirtihous) and its almost indistinguishable cousin, Short-toothed Zebra Blue (Leptotes brevidentatus)
Many adult butterflies, like this Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio demodocus demodocus), visit Plumbago flowers for nectar.
The Common Zebra Blue (Leptotes pirithous pirithous) are often found flitting around Plumbago plants.
Barleria obtusa Bush Violet, is one of the yellow Pansy’s (Junonia hierta cebrene) larval host plants,
Barleria obtusa (Bush Violet)

A scrambling perennial, Barleria obtusa  may grown as a groundcover or small shrub. It will grow in partial shade or full sun. Barleria obtusa has a profusion of white, pink or blue tubular flowers in autumn. It occurs naturally in Gauteng, including in Lesokeng, the home of the nursery.

This Barleria is a host plant to the larvae of the Yellow Pansy (Junonia hierta cebrene), a showy and bold garden butterfly that occurs in all the major urban centres of South Africa.

Asystasia gangetica (Creeping Foxglove)

Asystasia gangetica is an attractive groundcover with dark green leaves and masses of miniature Mackaya bella like white flowers. It grows well in the shade of tree canopies and in more humid areas it also does well in full sun. Besides its use as a groundcover, it may also be planted in raised planters and pots from which it can trail down. This plant is sensitive to frost and should be planted in well protected spots in colder climes.

This plant is the larval host to the attractive Blue Pansy, and the Common Diadem. The male Diadem is a

The Blue Pansy (Junonia oenone oenone) larva feed on Asystasia gangetica, Creeping Foxglove as well as Mackaya bella, Mackya.

handsome butterfly with large white patches in the black upper surface of the wings. The female mimics the African Monarch.

Plectranthus fruticosus “James grows to about 1 to 1.5 metres tall and has pink  flowers in autumn. Photo taken by Andrea Hepplewhite.

Plectranthus fruticosus “James” (Forest Spur Flower)

Plectranthus fruticosus “James” is a sun or shade loving perennial that grows to about a metre, metre and a half tall with a slightly wider spread. It has large, heart-shaped leaves that have a purple tinge on the under surface. The leaf margins are distinctly toothed. The attractive flower spikes are between 20 and 30 cm long have pink flowers borne in autumn and early winter. Protect them from frost and prune back to knee height in spring.

The wet season colour form of the Garden Commodore (Precis archesia arcesia).

This and other Plectranthus species are the larval host to the Garden Commodore. The butterfly has 2 distinct forms, a lighter wet season form and a darker dry season that has a bit of blue in the fore-wings.

Vachellia karroo (Sweet Thorn)

This and other Vachellia species that are often grown in gardens and urban environments are larval hosts to a number of butterflies, including many that occur in Gauteng.

Further Reading

Charles and Julia Botha, from Pietermaritzburg wrote a lovely book called “Bring Butterflies back to Your Garden”  It contains descriptions of more than 500 known butterfly host plants. It was published in 2006 by the KwaZulu-Natal Coastal Branch of the Botanical Society of South Africa. (ISBN: 0-620-36665-6). Just ensure that if you buy a copy that you get the ‘Summer rainfall’ edition, unless of course you live in the ‘Winter rainfall’ region.

Steve Woodhall’s “Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa” is a soft cover guide that is a must for everybody that is interested in our butterflies. There are detailed descriptions and photographs for more than 660 species. It was first published in 2005 by Struik Publishers (ISBN:10987654321)

Available from Google Play Store for R290.00 is “Steve Woodhall’s Butterflies of South Africa” This app is getting rave reviews.

© Malcolm Dee Hepplewhite & Witkoppen Wildflower Nursery, (Text and Photographs) 2013 & 2018.