With the alarming decline of beneficial pollinators, it is vitally important we support their needs as their native food sources dwindle!
There are many butterfly host plants and nectar resources for adult butterflies, but few folks realize that you also need to support the larvae too! So many plants are host plants to the young caterpillars and where adults prefer to lay their eggs.
Between the loss of habitat and higher use of pesticides and pollution in the environment, pickings have become slim for these winged lovelies! Caterpillars cannot travel, so bring the food to them!
While beautifying your own garden, it is easy to have dual-purpose trees and plants!
Set the Table for Monarch Butterflies
The Milkweed family attracts butterflies of all kinds and is well known because of the plight of the Monarch. Their black and orange tiger-stripes and their larvae are black, white and yellow striped with black antennae.
The blooms of Milkweed plants are food for adults while the leaves are larval hosts and shelter. Milkweed vine, a weed that most gardeners despise, surprisingly it’s also a Milkweed plant substitute as well!
Attract adult Monarchs by planting:
Butterfly Bush Shrubs
Salvia (both perennial and annual)
Monarch butterflies also love when you set out a plate of fruit such as sliced apples, grapes or oranges in a bowl of pebbles and water.
Very closely resembling the Monarch, Viceroy adults feed on your typical wildflowers for nectar, such as Milkweed and Thistles.
Oddly enough, the caterpillars resemble bird droppings! They prefer feeding on:
Roll Out the Red Carpet For Painted Ladies
The gorgeous little Painted Lady butterfly feasts on all kinds of plants ranging from perennials to trees to shrubs.
Painted Ladies enjoy:
The Painted Lady caterpillar’s host plants are mainly Thistles, but also Aster, Hollyhocks, Ironweed and most Mallows.
Flocks of Gulf Fritillaries
The skinny orange caterpillars with black spikes belong to Gulf Fritillary Butterfly. Adults are equally bright orange with thin, black striped, black-spotted wings.
Typically found feasting on Passionflower vines and Maypops as a youth, the adults love Wildflowers, Asters, Verbena and Zinnia.
Feeding the Tiger Swallowtail
Black Swallowtail, aka Tiger Swallowtails, are yellow and black striped beauties with a blue lower band and ‘tails’ on the lower wing. Their lime-green larvae with large false-eyes are typically found on Ash trees, but also Cherry and Willow, Birch and Tulip trees.
Attract adult Tiger Swallowtails with:
Related Zebra Swallowtail butterflies rely on the Paw Paw tree for their larvae to feed on.
Leagues of Eastern Swallowtail
Looking like the photo negative of the Tiger Swallowtail, Eastern are black, white with yellow and blue bands. These butterflies are attracted by:
Salvia (starting to see a pattern here yet?)
The striped larvae love your herbs and vegetable gardens; Dill, Parsley, Fennel and Carrot tops, as well as flowers like Queen Anne’s Lace and Rue.
Similar in shape and form, the Spicebush Swallowtail larvae only eat the Spicebush! Their brilliant orange caterpillars are hard to miss!
Serving the Skippers!
Skippers are smaller, high-energy butterflies, typically see flitting around gardens in North America.
Adults prefer the usual, but also Marigolds, Petunias, herbs and vegetables. However, the larvae are found on tomatoes, cabbage, and broccoli. Clover is another favorite for the adults and a host plant for their larvae, so watch the herbicide and pesticides!
Skipper larvae look alien! Their blob-like bodies and unusual bulging brown heads kind of look like a...well, butt! With false eyespots, they are unforgettable!
Mourning Cloak Butterfly Smorgasbord
Mourning Cloaks are dramatically colored as adults. They like sliced bananas and strawberries and other fruit set out in dishes around the garden while their young feast on the leaves of Willow trees primarily, and also Elm and Birch trees.
Often seen clustered on branch tips in large groups, the larvae may look fierce, but become the most striking and earliest appearing butterflies of the season!
Question Mark Butterfly Buffet
Loving ‘puddling’ and bowls of fruit like the Monarch, Question Marks have unusual tastes as adults and lap up tree sap, rotting fruit and feces, and can even be found fluttering around carrion!
Their larvae have more conventional diets with the leaves of Elm trees, Japanese Hops, Stinging Nettles, False Nettles and Hackberry Trees.
Comma Butterfly Canteen
Similar to the Question Mark, the Comma butterfly, looks almost identical with slight changes in their splotches.
Their larvae eat Hackberry trees, Japanese Hops, False Nettles and Elm tree leaves. Even their larvae look alike!
Hungry Hungry Hairstreaks
In desperate decline, Hairstreak butterflies are super tiny! Their random flight and minute size hide their powdery blue-gray beauty.
Adults love Milkweeds, Dogbane, Flowering Dogwoods, Swamp Milkweed, Yarrow and many of the typical early spring blooms. While the young only eat the leaves of the mighty Oak trees!
All the Rest
These butterfly species listed here are the most common, but just the tip of the iceberg!
The Willow tree family plays host to a mind-boggling 450 plus species of Lepidopteran caterpillars! Dogwood trees too!
The large Viburnum family feeds over 100 types of larvae. Bush Honeysuckle, Chokecherry too are much-needed shrubs.
Include native flowering plants in your butterfly gardens like Mallow, False Blue Indigo, Turtlehead, Sunflowers and Prairie Clover. Even native Grasses like Little Bluestem, Switchgrass and Big Bluestem! Learn more about creating the perfect pollinator garden!
All the Milkweed varieties out there, Ironweed and Asters, but also tuck in a few Bee Balm, Catnip, Catmint, Coneflowers, Lavender, Valerian and Yarrow too!
Even your herb garden hosts many caterpillars, so plant that extra row of Parsley, Garlic Chives, Dill, Sage, Mints, Oregano, Tansy, Thyme and Fennel!
Check out our Bird, Butterfly & Pollinator Plants to browse these varieties and more!
Just leaving that patch of native plants, Clover, Violets, or other ‘weeds’ alone in an out-of-the-way area in your garden will benefit so many beneficial pollinators! So get planting with your butterflies in mind and don’t forget to leave out shallow bowls of marbles filled with water and sliced fruit to give them the sugar boost they need! You and your environment will thank you!
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