There are many foods one can “survive on,” but we do have our favorites. Butterflies are no different. Many flower types will attract a few dining butterflies, but the dinner fare offered up by native plants for both butterflies and their caterpillars is tops! Studies have shown that native blooms and leaves attract many more butterfly species and individuals than their non-native counterparts.
The nectar sipping apparatus of butterflies and other pollinators are well matched to the native plants with which they have co-evolved. Highly modified horticultural varieties can lose characteristics that originally guided a pollinator to its food, or they may lose their nectar and pollen entirely.
Among the most well known and popular plants for Butterfly Gardens include Blazingstars (Liatris) and Milkweeds (Asclepias) for Monarchs, but there are numerous other choices. To create your own butterfly restaurant, choose nectar plants with bloom times throughout the growing season: Lupine and Phlox in spring through Asters and Goldenrods in the Autumn.
While many native plants serve as general nectar sources, host plants for butterfly caterpillars can be absolutely specific.
Providing host plants plays a role in attracting these colorful pollinators to your landscape. Here’s a butterfly-centric list with prefered and/or exclusive host plants. Add host plants to your butterfly garden and see who shows up for dinner!
Karner Blue Butterfly: Lupine (Lupinus perennis) is the only known food plant for caterpillars of the Karner Blue Butterfly, a federally-endangered species native to the Great Lakes region.
Columbine Duskywing: Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). Besides being a great nectar plant for early season butterflys, Columbine is a host food source for caterpillars of the Columbine Duskywing.
Pearl Crescent : The caterpillar of the Pearl Crescent butterfly prefers Smooth Aster (Aster laevis). The fabulous Smooth Aster produces a profusion of blue, star-like flowers in late autumn after most other plants are long gone.
Summer Azure: New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus). Host plant for the Summer Azure butterfly, New Jersey Tea is a popular nectar source for both butterflies and hummingbirds. Luxuriant glossy leaves and bright white flowers of make this durable shrub a real winner!
American Painted Lady: Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) is the prefered host plant for the stunning American Painted Lady. A favorite for adding late season color to the landscape, Ironweed is Named for its tough stem, which helps it keep an upright posture all season long.
Eastern Black Swallowtail: Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) is a food source for Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars. Brilliant golden flowers decorate this late-spring bloomer that grows one to two feet tall. An excellent choice for heavy clay soils in semi-shade to full sun.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail: Yellow Poplar, Black Willow, Black Cherry, American Hornbeam, Red Maple, Spicebush, American Elm, and Sassafras trees are known larval food sources for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
Explore www.butterfliesandmoths.org for a wealth of information on these colorful pollinators.