Butterfly Host Plants

Photo: Stalker76

Butterfly host plants serve two purposes:

  • They provide the female a place to lay her eggs. Depending on the butterfly species, the female can lay one egg or many at one time, called a cluster.

    Not all eggs make it to the caterpillar stage. It may be inclement weather causing eggs to perish while others will become meals for predators in the food web.

  • Host plants provide those eggs that do survive to become caterpillars both shelter and food.

    These plants are serious food for the caterpillar. Eating almost constantly, the butterfly caterpillar needs to store up energy
    for its pupa stage and through complete metamorphosis.

        Be prepared for serious munching on these butterfly plants.

Host plants are key to your butterfly garden. They create a complete butterfly habitat. If you only have blooming flowers the occasional adult butterfly will stop by for nectar then move on. If there are no host plants, there is no consideration for the female to lay her eggs.

You can locate butterfly hosts in low visible areas and outer parameters of your property. 

If you put plants closer to your home, alternate host plants and flowering perennials with annuals. Do this for two reasons:

  • While the plant is being eaten, place other shrubs and flowers close by making it less conspicuous. This helps create a beautiful balanced garden.

  • Once the pupa emerges the adult butterfly it is weak and vulnerable. Having nectar sources close by will help the butterfly to gain needed strength.

A butterfly host plant can be a plant, tree or bush,
and not necessarily flowering. 

Many plants serve as a host to most types of butterflies. There are a few species where only one or two butterfly plants will sustain them for life. 

This video discusses host plants for planting zones 6 -7, Oklahoma.  Any location in North America can benefit watching as many gardeners are familiar with all plants mentioned.  Watch also the neat trick to expose the butterfly's osmeterium, a defense organ on Swallowtail butterflies.

Should you live in a humid environment, this is good for butterflies. Caterpillars are able to emerge from their eggs more easily and the tender leaves from the host plants are easier to nibble.

If your environment is not so humid it is a good idea to spray plants with a garden hose on extremely hot days.

Break down of host plants by butterfly families:

1) Papilionidae Family - Swallowtail Butterflies

2) Nymphalidae Family - Brushfooted Butterflies

3) Pieridae Family - The Little White Butterflies

4) Lycaenidae Family - Gossamer-Winged Butterflies

5) Riodinidae Family - Metalmark Butterfly

6) Hesperiidae Family - Skipper Butterfly

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