Host Plants for Butterflies and Moths

As anyone who gardens with natives knows, native plants attract a remarkable number of pollinators to the garden. Butterlies get most of the attention with their bright colors and sun-loving ways, but a variety of beautiful moths can be supported as well. While not all moth are pollinators, they do have unique realtionships with native plants, and provide an important food source for birds as well.

If you want to see more butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) in your yard, the addition of specific host plants is an empowering way to take an active role in supporting species diversity.

The wide-ranging Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) will lay eggs on a variety of host plants, including Ironweed and Purple Poppy Mallow.

The wide-ranging Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) will lay eggs on many different plants, including Ironweed and Purple Poppy Mallow.

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The Io moth favors cherries (Prunus sp.) and willows (Salix sp.) and raspeberries (Rubus). Eggs and caterpillar are also pictured.

The Baltilmore Checkerspot is known to prefer White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra), but it will lay eggs on a few other plants. The Baltilmore Checkerspot is known to prefer White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra), but it will lay eggs on other select plants when needed.

The Baltilmore Checkerspot prefers White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) over other plants, but it is known to lay eggs on other available wetland plants, including Monkeyflower.

Some Lepidoptera deposit their eggs on one kind of plant to the exclusion of others – as is the case with Monarch butterflies and milkweeds. Not all Lepidoptera are entirely exclusive when it comes to which plants should host their eggs, but many have clear preferences.

Caterpillar-Friendly Gardening
An increase in awareness of our yards’ inhabitants and their needs can inform our gardening choices and help create a more caterpillar-friendly environment. Many butterflies, moths and other pollinators overwinter in leaves and spent plant material. Raking the ground clean around shrubs and in garden beds may destroy the hibernation environment for the very life that you are trying to support. It’s best to adopt a more tolerant approach to debris and spent plant material in the garden.

We’ve been conditioned to think of caterpillers and other crawling creatures as “pests.” But any feelings of alarm upon seeing caterpillars on our favorite plants can easily change to excitement and appreciation. Let curiousity and knowledge be your guide – get online and look up any unknowns! The caterpillars of moths and butterflies are needed and sought by many birds and are extremely important food for their young nestlings.

Habitat & Range
The likelihood of seeing certain species of lepidoptera can be limited due to stringent habitat requirements or range. On the other hand there are many butterflies and moths that range far and wide, and are easily supported, even in urban areas. The resources below include links to information about habitat and range.

Click here for a PDF of this list.

FLOWERS BUTTERFLIES & MOTHS
Asclepias sp., Monarch, Queen
Aster sp., Asters Pearl Crescent, Checkerspots
Baptisia australis, Blue False Indigo Wild Indigo Duskywing
Callirhoe involucrata, Purple Poppy Mallow Gray Hairstreak
Cassia hebecarpa, Wild Senna Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, Orange-Barred Sulphur
Ceanothus americanus, New Jersey Tea Spring Azure, Summer Azure, Mottled Duskywing
Chelone glabra, White Turtlehead Baltimore Checkerspot
Dalea purpurea, Purple Prairie Clover Southern Dogface
Helianthus sp: Sunflowers American Lady, Silvery Checkerpot, Gorgone Checkerspot
Hibiscus palustris, Rose Mallow Gray Hairstreak, Painted Lady
Lupinus perennis, Lupine Karner Blue, Frosted Elfin, Silvery Blue
Rudbeckia hirta, Black Eyed Susan Gorgone Checkerspot, Silvery Checkerspot
Mimulus ringens, Monkeyflower Common Buckeye, Baltimore Checkerspot
Salvia azurea, Blue Sage Sage Sphinx moth
Verbena hastata, Blue Vervain Common Buckeye
Vernonia fasciculata, Ironweed American Lady, Painted Lady
Viola sp., Labrador Violet Various fritillaries
Zizia aurea, Golden Alexanders Black Swallowtail
GRASSSES
Andropogon gerardii, Big Bluestem Delaware Skipper, DustedSkipper, Common Wood Nymph
Bouteloua curtipendula, Sideoats Grama Various skippers
Elymus Canadensis, Canada Wild Rye Zabulon Skipper
Panicum virgatum, Switchgrass Delaware Skipper; Dotted Skipper
Schizachyrium scoparium, Little Bluestem Ottoe Skipper, Indian Skipper, Crossline Skipper, Dusted Skipper, Dixie Skipper; Cobweb Butterfly
SHRUBS & VINES
Cornus sericea, Red Twig Dogwood Spring Azure
Diervilla lonicera, Northern Bush Honeysuckle Hummingbird Clearwing, Snowberry Clearwing
Prunus virginiana, Chokecherry Red Spotted Purple, Coral Hairstreak, Hummingbird Clearwing, Snowberry Clearwing, Io moth
Rosa sp. – Carolina Rose, Meadow Rose Apple Sphinx moth
Salix discolor, Pussy Willow Io moth, Polyphemus moths, Mourning Cloak, Viceroy
Symphoricarpos albus, White Snowberry Hummingbird Clearwing, Snowberry Clearwing
Spiraea tomentosa, Steeplebush Columbia Silkmoth
Viburnum sp., Nannyberry, Highbush Cranberry Spring Azure, Summer Azure, Hummingbird Clearwing

 

The Black Swallowtail lays its eggs on Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), a member of the Apiaceae plant family.

The Black Swallowtail will lay eggs on Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), a member of the Apiaceae plant family.

Snowberry clearwing lays eggs on a variety of smaller shrubs such as Northern Bush Honeysuckle, and Snowberry.

The Snowberry Clearwing will lay eggs on a variety of smaller shrubs such as Northern Bush Honeysuckle, and Snowberry.

Additional Resources and Information

Which butterflies inhabit your area?
Here is a handy tool that lets you see a list of butterflies which are known to be found in your state. Easy to use, just click on your state:  http://www.thebutterflysite.com/butterfly-gardening-by-area.shtml

Identify butterflies and moths and learn ALL about them.
To learn more about particular butterfly species – such as habitat, range, additional host plants, nectar plants and more – visit ButterfliesandMoths.org. http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species_search

MUST read: “Bringing Nature Home”
“Bringing Nature Home” by Douglas Tallamy is an inspiring, empowering book for anyone interested gardening. Thorough and reader-friendly, this book is packed with information about sustaining wildlife with native plants. If you have a yard, this book is for you. http://www.bringingnaturehome.net