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 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|