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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!

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.

Butterfly Larval Host Plants infographic

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

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annuals tender perennials butterflies perennials plant recommendations pollinator friendly

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