What’s a backyard wildlife habitat without butterflies? Incomplete! They’re not only pretty to look at and interesting to observe, but they help pollinate plants as they flutter from flower to flower. You’ll attract more butterflies to your yard by offering two categories of plants.
The first is nectar-rich food plants. Not just annuals and perennials, but shrubs and trees, as well. Second, they need “host” plants on which to lay their eggs. While most butterflies as adults sip nectar, their young offspring — caterpillars — can’t fly and must rely on a single plant to feed them through their larval stage.
Not just any plant will do. Different species of butterflies require different kinds of plants. For example, the host plants for Monarch caterpillars must be milkweeds. Common Buckeyes females, on the other hand, won’t give milkweeds a second glance; they want snapdragons. A plant can be a matter of life or death for hatched caterpillars. If you pluck a Black Swallowtail caterpillar off a parsley plant and place it on, say, an aster, it’ll starve to death — it simply won’t eat it. Even a change between two plant species within the same family may cause a caterpillar to stop eating.
We can’t hope for our yards to meet the needs of all butterflies, but it’s easy to provide for many species by simply planting a variety of plants we know they’ll like. Below are some of the preferred native nectar plants for butterflies, followed by a list of host plants. Take care not to apply insecticides to butterfly plants. Also see: Native annuals for butterflies
*Top photo: American Snout Butterfly (Libytheana carinenta) on mint. The “snout” is actually the forelegs, held closely together in a unique way. (WW)