Butterfly species and their host plants

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Want to attract more butterflies to your yard? Then double its appeal by offering host plants along with nectar plants. Why two kinds? Adult butterflies don’t have teeth and survive by sipping nectar from flowers, but their caterpillars have chewing mouthparts and survive by eating plants — host plants. 

No single host plant will work for all butterflies. Different species want different plants, ones that will be a suitable food source for their caterpillars after they hatch. For example, the female Monarch Butterfly sips nectar from many kinds of flowering plants, but will only lay her eggs on milkweed plants, while the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail wants Sycamore and willow trees as host plants. And, the Common Buckeye seeks out snapdragons on which to lay her eggs. So, plan to add several different kinds of plants.  More on attracting butterflies    

The right host plant is a matter of life or death for a caterpillar — if you pluck one off a parsley plant and place it on, say, an aster, it’ll starve to death. That’s because the plants aren’t related. There is such a tight bond between a caterpillar and its host plant that sometimes even a switch between two related plants will cause it to stop eating.

The butterflies listed below are some of the more common ones you may attract to your yard or garden if you add host plants. Note that some of these butterflies may not inhabit your particular area.

BUTTERFLY SPECIES AND THEIR HOST PLANTS

Key:  A=annuals; P=plant; T=tree; S=shrub; H=herb; V=vegetable; L=legume; G=grass

SPECIESHOST PLANTSTYPE
Zebra Longwing SwallowtailPawpawT
ViceroyWillows, Poplars, CottonwoodT
Two-tailed SwallowtailChokecherry, Ash, Hop TreeS, T
Tawny EmperorElmsT
Summer AzureFlowering Dogwood, New Jersey TeaS
Spring AzureBlack CherryT
Spicebush SwallowtailSpicebush, SassafrassS
Silvery CheckerspotBlack-eyed Susan, SunflowersP
Silver-spotted SkipperFalse Indigo, LocustP, T
Satyr CommaNettlesP
Sandia HairstreakBeargrassP
Sachem SkipperGrassesG
Regal FritillaryVioletsP
Red-spotted PurpleCherries, Oaks, Poplars, Willows, CottonwoodT
Red SatyrGrassesG
Red-banded HairstreakFallen leaves of (Sumacs), Oaks, Wax Myrtle(S), T
Red AdmiralNettles, (Hops)P, (V)
Question MarkNettles, False Nettle, Elms, (Hackberry)P, (T)
QueenMilkweedsP
Pipevine SwallowtailPipevinesV
Pearl CrescentAstersP
Painted LadyThistles, Hollyhock, Mallows, LegumesP
Painted CrescentAstersP
Oregon SwallowtailSagebrush, ParsleyP
Orange SulphurCloversP
Mourning CloakWillows, Poplars, Cottonwood, Elms, AldersT
MonarchMilkweedsP
Marine BlueAlfalfa, Legumes, (Mesquite)P, (T)
Karner BlueLupine, LegumesP
Horace's DuskywingOaks: Red, White, Scrub, Post, LiveT
Hackberry EmperorHackberryT
Gulf FritillaryPassion-vinesV
Gray HairstreakMallows, Clovers, (Cotton), HawthornP, (A), T
Great-spangled FritillaryVioletsP
Gorgone CheckerspotSunflowersP
Giant SwallowtailHop Tree, Citrus, Rue, Prickly AshP
Eastern Tiger SwallowtailSycamore, WillowsT
Eastern Tailed-blueClovers, Alfalfa, Wild PeaP, G, L
Eastern CommaNettles, Hops, (Elms)P, (T)
Dreamy DuskywingWillows, Poplars, AspensT
Dotted CheckerspotBeardtonguesP
DogfaceLead Plant, False Indigo, CloversP
Diana FritillaryVioletsP
Colorado HairstreakOakT
Cloudless SulphurPartridge Pea, SennaP
Checkered SkipperMallow, HollyhockP
Carolina SatyrGrassesG
California SisterOakT
California DogfaceFalse IndigoP
Cabbage White(Cabbage, collards), Brussels Sprouts(H), V
Buckeye(Snapdragons), Plantain, Toadflax(A), P
Black SwallowtailDill, Parsley Fennel, ParsnipH
Banded HairstreakOak, Walnut, HickoryT
Baltimore CheckerspotTurtleheadP
Anise SwallowtailAnise, Fennel, Parsley, Dill, Parsnips, (Citrus)H, (T)
American SnoutHackberryT
American LadyPussy Toes, Pearly Everlasting, IronweedP
American CopperSorrel, Curly DockH, P
*Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui, by WelcomeWildlife.com (cc by-sa 3.0)
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