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.
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 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|