Host Plants for Butterfly Gardens

Reakirt's Blue Butterfly Laying Eggs on an Illinois Bundleflower

Reakirt’s Blue Butterfly Laying Eggs on an Illinois Bundleflower

Everyone loves butterflies for their wonderful array of colors and patterns as well as their graceful movements. Images of butterflies have been popular for jewelry, decoration and crafts for centuries. Butterflies undergo an amazing metamorphosis from egg, to caterpillar to beautiful, winged adult. It is possible to plant flowers in a home garden to attract and maintain populations of butterflies for many years to come. The key is to provide appropriate nectar plants for the adult butterflies and include larval host plants for their babies to eat.

Many garden flowers as well as native wildflowers make great nectar plants for butterflies. Zinnia and Scabiosa are garden flowers that are butterfly magnets, and New England Aster, Purple Coneflower, Dwarf Godetia, Gayfeather and Milkweeds are great native plant sources of nectar.

But what are butterfly larval host plants? Each butterfly species chooses specific species of plants to lay their eggs on. These plants are required for the survival of their larvae (caterpillars). After an egg hatches on a host plant, the tiny caterpillar begins to feed on the host plant and get bigger. A caterpillar will undergo 4 to 6 molts (shedding of skin) until they are finished growing. At this point, the caterpillar attaches itself to an object and forms a pupal case. Inside the case, the caterpillar undergoes a transformation into an adult butterfly.

Many people already know that milkweed is the larval host plant for monarch butterflies. However, Applewood Seed carries a large number of host plants (see table below) for many species of butterflies and skippers. Skippers are small butterflies with short fat bodies, hooked antennae, and a rapid, skipping flight pattern. Check out the BugGuide for butterfly identification and species ranges.

(Common Name)
(Scientific Name)
Leadplant Amorpha canescens Dogface Sulphur, Gray Hairstreak
Big Bluestem Andropogon gerardii Cobweb Skipper, Common Wood Nymph, Delaware Skipper, Dusted Skipper
Dill Anethum graveolens Anise Swallowtail, Eastern Black Swallowtail
Asclepias species All Asclepias species Monarch, Queen
Aster species A. novae-angliae, A. laevis American Lady, Checkerspots, Painted Lady, Pearl Crescent, Silvery Checkerspot
Blue Wild Indigo Baptisia australis Clouded Sulphur, Eastern Tailed-Blue, Frosted Elfin, Orange Sulphur, Wild Indigo Duskywing
Sideoats Grama Bouteloua curtipendula Dotted Skipper, Green Skipper, Sheep Skipper
Blue Grama Bouleloua gracilis Garita Skipperling, Green Skipper, Pahaska Skipper, Rhesus Skipper, Simius Roadside-Skipper, Uncas Skipper
Buffalo Grass Buchloe dactyloides Green Skipper
Partridge Pea Chamaecrista fasciculata Cloudless Sulphur, Gray Hairstreak, Little Sulphur, Orange Sulphur, Sleepy Orange
Lance-Leaved Coreopsis Coreopsis lanceolata Silvery Checkerspot, Buckeye
Purple Prairie Clover Dalea purpurea Dogface Sulphur, Reakirt’s Blue, Southern Dogface
Illinois Bundleflower Desmanthus illinoensis Hairstreaks, Reakirt’s Blue
Showy Tick Trefoil Desmodium canadense Dorantes Longtail, Eastern Tailed Blue, Hoary Edge, Silver-Spotted Skipper
Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea Bordered Patch, Gorgone Checkerspot, Silvery Checkerspot
Canada Wildrye Elymus canadensis Zabulon Skipper
Rattlesnake Master Eryngium yuccifolium Black Swallowtail
Joe Pyeweed Eupatorium maculatum Painted Lady
Boneset Eupatorium perfoliatum Bordered Patch
Idaho Fescue Festuca idahoensis Sonora Skipper
Indian Blanket Gaillardia pulchella Bordered Patch
Wild Sunflower Helianthus annuus American Lady, Bordered Patch, Gorgone Checkerspot, Painted Lady, Silvery Checkerspot
Ox-Eye Sunflower Heliopsis helianthoides Silvery Checkerspot
Balsam Impatiens balsamina American Painted Lady
Roundheaded Bush Clover Lespedeza capitata Hoary Edge, Gray Hairstreak, Eastern Tailed Blue, Northern Cloudywing, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Southern Cloudywing
Perennial Lupine Lupinus perennis Frosted Elfin, Karner Blue
Switchgrass Panicum virgatum Delaware Skipper, Dotted Skipper
Hairy Beardtongue Penstemon hirsutus Baltimore Checkerspot
Black-Eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta Bordered Patch, Gorgone Checkerspot, Silvery Checkerspot
Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium Dusted Skipper, Crossline Skipper, Indian Skipper, Ottoe Skipper, Wood Nymph
Wild Senna Senna hebecarpa Cloudless Sulphur, Orange Sulphur, Sleepy Orange
Rigid Goldenrod Solidago rigida Baltimore, Silvery Checkerspot
Indiangrass Sorghastrum nutans Pepper and Salt Skipper
Scarlet Globemallow Sphaeralcea coccinea Common Checkered Skipper, Gray Hairstreak, Laviana White Skipper, Painted Lady, Small Checkered Skipper, White Checkered Skipper
Ohio Spiderwort Tradescantia ohiensis Common Buckeye
Blue Vervain Verbena hastata Common Buckeye
Golden Crownbeard Verbesina encelioides Bordered Patch
Prairie Ironweed Vernonia fasciculata American Lady, Painted Lady
Golden Alexander Zizia aurea Eastern Black Swallowtail
Butterfly Mixture

Butterfly Seed Mixture

We recommend our Butterfly Mixture to establish a butterfly garden. It contains spring, summer and fall blooming nectar plants and nine different host plants. Butterfly gardens should be located in open, sunny areas, and provide a small water source if possible.  Butterflies obtain minerals and nutrients from the water. Avoid the use of insecticides, which will kill adult butterflies and caterpillars.

If you prefer a custom butterfly garden mixture for your region, please contact our sales staff to assist you in choosing the appropriate nectar and larval host plants for your mix. You can also consult the USDA Plants Database to learn more about native wildflowers found in your area.

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