The Butterfly Garden Guidebook
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The following is a list of the host plants that are good for attracting and cultivating caterpillars:
This deciduous, flowering plant belongs to the birch family. It has simple and serrated leaves. Commonly found near water (cricks, streams, rivers, etc.), the Alder leaves and catkins are common food for a wide variety of moths and butterflies.
Anice is a flowering plant common to the Mediterranean and southwestern parts of Asia. This annual plant can grow up to 3 feet in height with leaves at the base and up high on the stems. Several Lepidoptera species including lime-speck pugs and wormwood pugs, are especially interested in Anice.
There are many species of Aspen but all are native to areas with colder summers in the northern hemisphere. These deciduous trees can reach up to 100 feet in height. Aspens fair poorly in shaded environments and seeds have a tough time growing to mature plants.
Typically found in Europe and Asia, the Aster is a flowering plant with a star shaped flower head (which is how the plant derives its name, from the Ancient Greek word). There are many butterfly species that use Aster as a food source mainly because the plant grows in hardy places.
Also referred to as Soleirolia, Baby’s Tear is a plant from the nettle family. This herb has yellow or green leaves and tiny flowers that are white in color. It’s commonly found in ornamental gardens all over the world and prefers moisture and shade.
Buckthorn is a small shrub/tree that includes many different species found in North America and parts of eastern Asia. They can have evergreen or deciduous leaves that are yellow-green in color. This plant is frequently confused with dogwoods but can be differentiated by tearing apart their leaves: a dogwood’s leaf will contain tiny strings when ripped.
Everyone probably knows what a cabbage is. The caterpillar is considered a pest to cabbage growers. Moths and butterflies are also huge problems to cabbages as they leave behind giant holes in the vegetable. Repeated planting in the same place, year over year, is the best (worst?) way to attract caterpillars to these plants.
Canyon Live Oak
The Canyon Live Oak is a species of evergreen oak found in North America. It’s found as far south as Mexico and in the western United States in places like California. It’s commonly seen near small sources of water like creeks and tiny rivers. The Canyon Live Oak is a popular habitat for all kinds of birds, insects and small mammals.
Caenothus is a small shrub which is typically known as the California, or wild, lilac. It’s sometimes referred to as a soap bush as well. As you may have guessed, Caenothus is found in California as well as other western states on hillsides that are dry and receive a lot of exposure to the sun.
There are over 300 different species of Clover that can be found in North America, South America and even parts of Africa. Clover grows freely and abundantly wherever it is planted and provides a food source for many kinds of fauna. In addition, clover is seen as an alternative to some kinds of fertilizers and works well for composting.
Coast Live Oak
This evergreen oak tree is native to California. The Coast Live Oak has a trunk with many branches and will reach a height of up to 82 feet when fully mature. They can live for quite a long time, 250 years in some cases, and can have trunks with diameters over 10 feet wide. This plant is the one and only food source for the California oak moth caterpillar.
The False Indigo is a member of the pea family, native to North America and found all over southern Canada, the United States and northern Mexico. This plants flowers have only one petal and the general shape of the False Indigo tends to be shrub-like. Several butterfly species use the False Indigo as a food source with the Schinia flower moth feeding on it exclusively.
Fennel, a flowering plant in the carrot family of plants, is a herb that grows perennially in the Mediterranean originally but now is common across the globe. The Fennel plant has flowers that are yellow in color. It is a common food source for old-world swallowtails, mouse moths and the anise swallowtail in North America.
Hackberry, also known as a nettle tree, is a deciduous plant found mostly in warm climates around the planet. Hackberry trees grow to be medium in height (up to 80 feet) with simple leaves and produces a small fruit that is similar to a date and is popular with a wide variety of species.
The Hollyhock encompasses almost 60 different species of plants that come in annual, biennial and perennial varieties. They are popular in ornamental gardens because they are easy to grow and produce nicely colored flowers. Butterflies like the painted lady as well as several kinds of moths.
Hops, a common ingredient in beer, is a climbing perennial that comes in a handful of different varieties depending on where it is grown. Its use in beer has made it become a widespread crop throughout all regions and a quality food source for quite a few animals and insects including caterpillars.
A member of the olive family, the Lilac is largely seen as an ornamental plant for use in home gardens throughout Europe and North America. It grows in patches, and not in an aggressive pattern, along rocky hills. A deciduous shrub, the Lilac grows upwards of 20 feet high at its peak.
Mallow is a flowering plant which contains an astounding 4,000+ known species across a set of different forms: herbs, shrubs and trees. They are a good food source for caterpillars and butterflies who also assist in the pollination of the plant.
The Milkweed is an American plant that produces incredibly unique flowers. It is one of the most important sources of nectar for many insects including bees, wasps, butterflies (particularly Monarch butterflies) and moths. The Milkweed has a set of personal defenses to try and prevent caterpillars from damaging it.
Nasturtium is best known for watercresses that encompass part of the seven species that make up the genus. They have a pungent and peppery flavor and is a popular food for a variety of caterpillars including the a moth lovingly known as “The Gem.”
Parsley is widely grown as a herb, vegetable and spice throughout the Mediterranean but is known regularly found throughout Europe and other parts of the world. It is a biennial plant found mostly in climates that are temperate. Plenty of swallowtail butterflies use parsley plants as their host plant for caterpillars. A swallowtail caterpillar will feed on the plant for up to two weeks.
The Passion Vine is commonly found in South America, parts of Asia and select specifies are found throughout the United States. The flowers on a Passion Vine are so unique that is takes a large-sized bee to pollinate with any success. The leaves are popular with all kinds of caterpillars so, as a defense mechanism, tiny bumps similar to butterfly eggs will grow to deter butterflies.
The Plantain, sometimes referred to as a fleawort, is unrelated to the banana. They are tiny shrubs that grow no taller than two feet in height. The Plantain is found across the globe and in many different habitats and climates.
The Plum encompasses several wide-ranging group of species. The typical Plum tree is of a medium height and is very hardy. The fruits are commonly 1 to 3 inches in diameter and a popular food item for caterpillars. The Plum tree blossoms at different times depending on where it is in the world so do some research in advance.
The Poplar is a deciduous flowering plant which is regularly found throughout the northern hemisphere. There are so many varieties of Poplar trees that it’s hard to give a good description of their size so expect plants between 50 and 150 feet tall with trunks that could grow up to almost 8 feet in diameter.
Sassafras trees can grow tall with very thin, slender branches and smooth bark. A unique aspect of the Sassafras is that all parts of the tree have a fragrance. The trees are usually found in open woods or in fields with a preference for well-drained or sandy soil. Sassafras is an important food source for many insects and small mammals.
Snapdragons are named after the shape of their flowers. This cold weather annual is native to Europe, North Africa and the United States. The Snapdragon grows best in full or partial sun and most be watered on a regular basis. They grow in a variety of heights: as small as 6 inches all the way up to 48 inches or more.
The spicebush is mostly found in the eastern parts of Asia but you can find three species in the east of North America. A small shrub or tree, the spicebush has male and female flowers on separate plants and can be located in a variety of locations. Most varieties prefer shaded areas but a few can survive in full sunlight.
These tall plants are a very popular food source for the larvae of butterflies. Almost all of the species can be found in North America. These plants are very common but can sometimes take over a garden and become invasive. Some species are protected by the Endangered Species Act in the United States.
The verbena is a semi-woody plant with small flowers and simple leaves. They are commonly used as ornamental plants in yards and gardens although some species are considered not very hardy for certain climates. The verbena is great for attracting butterflies like the hummingbird hawk-moth, pipevine swallowtail and even hummingbirds.
The term “violet” actually applies to a lot of different plant species. The largest genus is the Viola which is found in the Northern Hemisphere were temperate climates are most common. The Viola have heart-shaped leaves and appear to just rise out of the ground because of the construction of their stems.
The Willow is a deciduous tree (and sometimes a shrub) found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. It can survive in cold and temperate areas and is a common source of food for butterflies like the mourning cloak. They are also home to a number of pests like aphids and wasps.
One of the more interesting facts about butterflies is that you can put the plants listed above and start your very own butterfly garden. If you would like to learn more check out out butterfly garden guide.