caterpillar on its host plant

Butterfly Host Plants

Butterfly Host Plants are important when you create your butterfly garden to provide a site for the butterfly to lay eggs and also a food source for the emerging caterpillar. Be prepared for heavy munching on your host plants!

Because tiny caterpillars cannot travel far to find their own food, the female butterfly locates and lays her eggs on only the type of plant that the caterpillar can use as food. Most species of caterpillars are particular about the type of plants they can eat. If the egg was not placed on the correct plant, the caterpillar hatching from that egg will not survive. Many gardeners do not like to see plants in their gardens that have been chewed on by bugs. To avoid this, you may want to locate your butterfly host plants in areas that are not highly visible, but still a short distance from the butterfly nectar plants. If you do not provide host plants, you will have fewer butterflies.

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Caterpillar Pictures
Specific Host Plants are Important for Each Kind of Caterpillar

Many native trees and other plants found in and around our yards are host plants for caterpillars. There are a variety of plants that can be included in a butterfly garden that are excellent host plants. The Native Plants Database is a great resource for folks interested in selecting native plants for their yard.

Here’s a list of common butterflies and their preferred host plants:
Butterfly TypeCaterpillar Food / Host Plant
Alfalfa butterflyAlfalfa, clovers, deerweed
Anise Swallowtail
Anise Swallowtail 
Sweet Fennel, Lomatium, Citrus
Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar
Black swallowtail
Dill, parsley, fennel, carrot
Buckeye Butterfly Caterpillar
plantains, gerardias, toadflax, snapdragons, false loosestrifes
Cabbage WhiteMany plants in mustard family, cabbage family
Checkered skipperMallow, hollyhock
Checkered whiteTumble mustard
Clouded sulfurAlfalfa, clover
Cloudless Sulfur
Cloudless Sulfur
Ornamental Cassia, Canary Bird Bush 
Common hairstreakmallow family , hollyhock , rose and marsh mallows 
Common Snout ButterflyHackberry
Dogface Butterflylead plant, false indigo, prairie clover  
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
sycamore, willow
Fritillary Butterfly Caterpillar
Edwards fritillary
Nuttall’s violet
Cabage White Caterpillar Pieris brassicae
Cabbage White
Broccoli, cabbage (mustard family)
Gorgone checkerspotSunflowers
Hackberry butterflyHackberry
Melissa blueWild licorice, alfalfa, etc.
Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars
Mourning Cloak Butterfly Caterpillar
Mourning cloak
Willow, aspen, cottonwood, elm
Orange sulfurAlfalfa, vetch, pea
Painted Lady
Painted Lady
Thistle, hollyhock, sunflower
Pale SwallowtailRedberry, California Coffeeberry, California Lilac, Holly-leafed Cherry
Question Mark
Question Mark
nettle, elm, hackberry, hops, false nettles
Red Admiral
Red Admiral
nettle, false nettle, pellitory
Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly Caterpillar
Red-Spotted Purple
Wild cherry, oak, poplar, hawthorn, willow
Silver-spotted skipperWild licorice, locust, etc.
Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar
Spicebush Swallowtail
spice bush, sassafrass
Two-tailed swallowtailGreen ash, chokecherry
Variegated fritillaryVarious, including pansy
Viceroy Butterfly
Viceroy Butterfly
willow, poplar, apple
Weidemeyer’s admiralWillow, aspen, cottonwood
Western tiger swallowtailWillow, cottonwood, chokecherry
Wood nymphGrasses
Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar
Zebra Swallowtail

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