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Host Plants For Butterflies

Different species of caterpillars have specific plants or plant families they need for their food.

host plants monarch caterpillar-edit

Photo: TexasEagle (flickr)

A Monarch butterfly caterpillar munching the leaves of a milkweed plant.

As well as providing nectar-rich plants for mature butterflies to feast on, this spring we must try harder to include spring and summer food for caterpillars in our gardens.

Caterpillars need some plants that we gardeners may think of as weeds to get the sustenance necessary for them to evolve into butterflies. Different species of caterpillars have specific plants or plant families they need for their food.

For example, Black Swallow larvae enjoy fennel, dill, parsley, carrot or rue as host plants, and the Giant Swallowtail also likes rue. Viceroy, Red Spotted Purple, and Mourning Cloak larvae prefer trees such as salix (willow), and prunus (flowering cherry) is preferred by Red Spotted Purples and Tiger Swallowtails. Hackberry trees are hosts to Hackberry, Question Mark and Snout.

Monarchs love milkweed (Asclepias tuberose) to lay their eggs on. Actually, the vining bindweed that gardeners deplore is a form of milkweed that monarchs adore. Annual zinnias, butterfly bushes, verbena (bonariensis) and coneflowers, as well as veronica (altissima), are magnets for adult butterflies and are usually not attractive to deer.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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  • Brad Grimm

    -Andrews writes a great article. It gives me great satisfaction to read about anything in support of monarchs thru planting and caring for Asclepias. I have listened to this audio many times. While it did not inspire me to create a milkweed podcast it did influence me. Hear more about monarchs and milkweed from me at

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