Want Butterflies? Plant Host Plants!

I’m often asked, “How do I start a butterfly garden?” and, “How can I get butterflies to come to my garden?” or, “I have lots of flowers but how come I never see any butterflies?”

Plant host plants! It takes more than nectar to entice butterflies to take up residence in your garden. Larval host plants are the secret to successful butterfly gardening; they are plants required by a caterpillar for growth and development. By planting host plants in your garden, you offer a promise of food for the next generation and will attract more butterflies than you thought possible.

If you do not have host plants in your garden, butterflies may come to visit the flowers for nectar, but then they will leave. Butterflies are on a mission. Females are busy looking for places to lay their eggs. Males are also attracted to host plants, where they can find females for mating. So make it easy for them and plant those plants they need for their offspring.

Below are some common North American butterflies and their host plants. I have included some of the most common and easiest butterflies to attract. As you learn more about the different species of butterflies that are native to your area you can expand the different types of host plants to put in your garden.

Monarch (Danuas plexipus)
Queen (Danaus gilippus

Click here to find seeds.

In my opinion, the most important host plant you can have in your butterfly garden is Milkweed, and the more the better! There are many species of Milkweeds you can plant which are suited to where you live. In fact, in the United States, there are over 100 species of native Milkweeds. It can be challenging to find native milkweeds to purchase at local nurseries. Your best bet is to find native nurseries in your area that might carry native Milkweeds.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

The American Lady is found throughout temperate North America.

The American Lady butterfly is found over the southern half as well as the eastern half of the US.

Find seeds here:
Pussy Toes
Sweet Everlasting
Silver Brocade

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

The beautiful Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) butterfly and five of its host plants, including common herbs: Dill, Fennel and Parsley.

Black Swallowtails are some of the easiest butterflies to attract to your garden not only because they are found throughout North America but also because they have so many host plants that are very easy to grow from seed.

Find seeds here:
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea)
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Rue (Ruta graveolens)

Painted Lady (Vanessa Cardui)

Painted Lady butterflies are found in all 48 contiguous states. These butterflies use many different plants as hosts but these are some of the most common.

The Painted Lady butterfly is another common butterfly that can easily be attracted to your garden because it has so many different flowering plants that are host plants for their caterpillars.

Find Seeds Here:

Common Buckeye (Juonia coenia)

Common Buckeye butterflies are found in the southern half of the US and the eastern side of the northern half of the United States. Buckeye butterflies lay eggs on a wide variety of host plants.

Find seeds here:
Brazillian Verbena
Blue Toadflax
False Foxglove
Mexican Petunia

Cabbage white (PIERIS RAPAE)
Southern White (ASCIA MONUSTE)

Cabbage White butterflies are found throughout North America. It is one of the first butterflies that appear in the spring.

Great Southern White butterflies are found from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. It is migratory along the southeastern coast of the United States, with strays to Maryland, Kansas, and Colorado.

Find Seeds Here:
Spider Flower
Flowering Kale

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

Please note that these plants go by the common name Dutchman’s Pipe, but some species of Dutchman’s Pipe are toxic to the larva. Only these two species, Aristolochia trilobata and Aristolochia fimbriata are not so that is why the scientific name is so important when you go to purchase this vine.

Find Seeds Here:
Aristolochia fimbriata

Remember, you cannot have a butterfly without the caterpillar and you cannot have the caterpillar without that host plant. So plant lots of host plants. You can never have too many.

For a more comprehensive list of butterflies and their host plants, click here.

Resources for Host Plants:
Rose Frankin Perennials 
Shady Oak Butterfly Farm 
Lupine Gardens and Chemical Free Native Plants

Spread the message with this “Plant Milkweed T-shirt by Butterfly Lady: https://amzn.to/2PFvZn4

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