Issue 74
Butterfly Host Plants

Sulphur butterfly on red clover Flowers attract butterflies. It’s a fact of nature. But, like humans, butterflies do have their favorites. You learned about attracting spring butterflies in Garden Gate issue 74 from Kathleen Ziemer of Butterfliez of Iowa. Want to keep those butterflies coming year after year? Feed their children. Host plants will provide places for adult butterflies to lay their eggs and feed the caterpillars as soon as they hatch. If you have just one or two spring butterflies visit your flowers this year and they find their preferred host plant, next year you could have dozens.

Did you ever wonder how butterflies know if a plant is good for them to lay their eggs on? They have nerve cells called chemoreceptors on their antennae, feet and legs, similar to the receptors we have in our nose and on our tongue. They let the butterfly know which plants will be good places for them to lay their eggs. After all, the hungry young caterpillars will need to eat as soon as they hatch. And when they’re very young, they really can’t travel far for a meal.

Here are some plants to put on the menu for your winged butterflies, and the visitors they’ll attract.

Butterfly Host Plants
Plant name Butterflies
Bean Phaseolus spp. Hair streak
Cabbage and mustard Brassica spp. White
Clover Trifolium spp. Blue, sulphur and hair streak
Elm Ulmus spp. Question mark, mourning cloak
Hollyhock Alcea spp. Painted lady
Hop Humulus spp. Question mark
Milkweed Asclepias spp. Monarch
Nettle Urtica spp. Tortise shell, painted lady, question mark, red admiral, comma
Parsley Petroselinum spp. Black swallowtail
Passion vine Passiflora spp. Fritillary
Plantain Plantago spp. Common buckeye
Poplar Populus spp. Mourning cloak, viceroy, red-spotted purple, western tiger swallowtail
Snapdragon Antirrhinum spp. Common buckeye
Violet Viola spp. Fritillary
Willow Salix spp.
Red-spotted purple, mourning cloak, comma, tortise shell, viceroy, hairstreak