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Butterfly Host Plants

By: Garden Gate staff
Want to turn your garden into a beautiful pollinator hangout? Plant these butterfly host plants so these winged wonders can use them as a nursery!

Monarch butterfly on swamp milkweed: Monarch butterflies use different types of milkweed, like this swamp milkweed, as their host plant.

Support butterflies by growing host plants

Did you know butterflies use plants in different ways during their life cycles? Larval host plants provide shelter for butterfly eggs and food for growing caterpillars. Many butterfly species have only a few or even just one plant that they will use to lay their eggs and support their offspring. Most herbs make excellent host plants. Nectar plants produce various kinds of flowers that provide liquid food for adult butterflies.

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Butterfly Larval Host Plants infographic: Buy this Illustrated Print at GardenGateStore.com.

Butterfly host plants

If you want to attract butterflies that are just passing through, nectar plants will be enough to bring them in for a visit. But butterflies are more selective about the plants where they lay their eggs. If they do find host plants to their liking, you can keep an eye out for all the stages these amazing insects pass through starting with a tiny egg, the caterpillar, the chrysalis and finally the beautiful butterfly.

The list of butterfly larval host plants below isn't exhaustive but it's a good start. You'll find a couple of weeds on the list. These are followed by an asterisk and have no hardiness information. Although you probably won’t go out of your way to plant them, we’ve included them because they might be in your garden already. If you let a few of them grow, they can play host to the butterflies you want to help out.

Butterfly name Host Plant
Common Name
Botanical name Hardiness
Common buckeye Snapdragon Antirrhinum majus Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10
Dainty sulphur Marigold Tagetes spp. and hybrids Annual
Eastern tailed blue Alfalfa* Medicago sativa n/a
Eastern tiger swallowtail Ash Fraxinus spp. Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9
Giant swallowtail Gas plant Dictamnus albus 3 – 8
Gulf fritillary Passion flower Passiflora spp. and hybrids Cold hardy in USDA zones 6 to 11
Malachite Mexican petunia Ruellis simplex Cold hardy in USDA zones 8 to 10
Meadow fritillary Violet Viola odorata Cold hardy in USDA zones 8 to 9
Milbert’s tortoiseshell Stinging nettle* Urtica dioica n/a
Monarch Milkweed Asclepias spp.and hybrids Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9
Mourning cloak Willow Salix spp. Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9
Painted lady Mallow Malva spp. and hybrids Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9
Question mark Nettles* Urtica spp. n/a
Red Admiral Nettles* Urtica spp. n/a
Red-spotted purple Willow Salix spp. Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9
Zebra heliconian Passion flower Passiflora spp. and hybrids Cold hardy in USDA zones 6 to 11
Zebra swallowtail Pawpaw Asimina triloba Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9
Published: April 25, 2012
Updated: Aug. 9, 2022
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