Butterfly Garden Host Plants

Richard and I love watching butterflies in our gardens, prairie, and wetland areas—and have documented 70 species at Daybreak Sanctuary.  Most people think it’s because we plant all those pretty nectar plants for the butterflies to feed from.  They’re wrong!

 

A successful butterfly garden requires something for all stages of a butterfly’s life. Here’s a really quick natural history review of butterflies:  After mating, a female butterfly lays eggs which turn into caterpillars. A caterpillar forms a chrysalis that pupates into a butterfly.

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) mating on host plant -- Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) mating on host plant -- Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) egg on host plant -- Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) egg on host plant -- Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpiller on Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpiller on Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) chrysalis

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) chrysalis

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) emerging from pupa/chrysalis

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) emerging from pupa/chrysalis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butterflies lay their eggs on or near a plant where their caterpillars will feed. These plants are very specific to each species and are called host plants. The caterpillar spends all its life munching on this host plant, and these plants are the heart of a successful butterfly garden.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) egg on parsley

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) egg on parsley

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillars on parsley

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) caterpillars on parsley

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) male on Cosmos bud

Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) male on Cosmos bud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a good idea to read about the butterfly species that live in your area, learn their host plants, and offer those in your landscape.  You’ll attract more butterflies doing that than by planting colorful flowers for them to nectar from.  Because if truth be known, the butterflies are looking for a place to breed and produce more butterflies—and they can’t do that without the host plants.

Pipevine Swallowtail catepillars on host plant--Dutchman's Pipevine (Aristolochia marophylla)

Pipevine Swallowtail catepillars on host plant--Dutchman's Pipevine (Aristolochia marophylla)

So when making plant selections for your landscape, include more than nectar plants to create a butterfly-friendly habitat.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I can’t live without oodles of flowers in my gardens—so I always include plenty of those for the butterflies too!

Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor) male on Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)

Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor) male on Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)

Host Plants for Caterpillars

Black Swallowtail – anise, carrot, parsley, dill, fennel, rue, yarrow

Buckeye – snapdragons, verbena, toadflax, monkeyflower

Common Wood Nymph – grasses

Giant Swallowtail – prickly ash, rue, citrus trees

Great Spangled Fritillary – violets

Variegated Fritillary – passion vine

Hackberry – hackberry, sugarberry

Monarch – milkweeds

Mourning Cloak – willows, American elm, quaking aspen, paper birch, hackberry

Painted Lady – daisy family, thistle, hollyhock

Pipevine Swallowtail – Dutchman’s Pipevine

Red Admiral — wild cherry, black oaks, aspens, birches

Red Spotted Purple – willow, cherry, oak, hawthorn, apple

Spicebush Swallowtail – spicebush, sassafras

Sulphurs – asters, clovers, alfalfa, pea family

Tiger swallowtail – cherry, ash, birch, cottonwood, willow, spicebush, lilac

Viceroy – poplar, apple, plum, cherry

Zebra Swallowtail – pawpaw

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