Feed Creepy Caterpillars to Attract Beautiful Butterflies

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20160403A

If you want butterflies, you have to learn to put up with caterpillars.

Who doesn’t love butterflies? Every gardener wants to see them flitting above his or her flower beds during the summer: they’re just so beautiful! As a result, many gardeners are specifically looking for flowers that are attractive to butterflies (in fact, that was the subject of yesterday’s blog) and planting them in large numbers, convinced they will soon be drawing in dozens of winged wonders. But they are often disappointed by the results. After all that effort trying to attract them, why are butterflies not flocking to their gardens in huge numbers?

Yet the reason is pretty obvious. All butterflies begin their lives as caterpillars, larvae of an often unsavory appearance. And caterpillars, moreover, eat plant leaves. So if you spray insecticides on your plants to control caterpillars, or if you avoid planting a plant species because it is known to attract caterpillars, in fact, if you simply spray your garden regularly with insecticide, just in case, you’re not giving your butterfly garden much of a chance.

If you really want to attract butterflies, you also have to grow the plants that  feed the larvae. Plus, when you see caterpillars of desirable species, you have to hold back on the pesticide treatments and let them chomp through your plants. Of course, you’ll lose a few leaves… but at least you’ll make the butterflies much happier!

Fodder for Caterpillars

Here is a selection of host plants for butterfly larvae. The list was specifically drawn up for North American gardeners, but there almost always related butterfly species in Eurasia that are interested in the same host plants, so the list ought to be good for most of the Northern Hemisphere. As for my readers Down Under, I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the information you’ll need.

Note that several of the most interesting plants for the caterpillars are regarded as weeds by most gardeners and are therefore rarely if ever sold in garden centers. However they can often be found in catalogs specializing in native plants. Given the weedy nature of some of these (burdocks, thistles, dandelions, many milkweeds, etc.), it may be helpful to create a little “wild corner” on your property where you let less garden-worthy plants proliferate. The butterflies will thank you for your openness!

  1. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) zone 3
  2. American senna (Cassia marilandica) zone 4b
  3. Beard grass (Andropogon spp.) zone 3
  4. Black locust (Robinia pseudacacia) zone 4b
  5. Burdock (Arctium spp.) zone 3

    20160403B

    Monarch butterfly larvae will only live on butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.).

  6. Cabbage (Brassica oleracea) biennial vegetable
  7. Carrot (Daucus carota) biennial vegetable
  8. Cherry (Prunus spp.) zones 1 à 8
  9. Common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) zone 3b
  10. Dill (Anethum graveolens) annual herb
  11. Dock (Rumex spp.) zone 3
  12. Dogwood (Cornus spp.) zones 2 à 8
  13. Dutchman’s pipe, pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla, syn. A. durior) zone 4
  14. Elm (Ulmus spp.) zones 2 à 8
  15. False foxglove (Aglinis spp., formerly Gerardia spp.) zone 3
  16. False lupine (Baptisia australis) zone 4
  17. False nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica) zone 5
  18. Grasses (various genera) zones 1 à 10
  19. Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) zones 3 à 6
  20. Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) zone 3
  21. Hops (Humulus lupulus) zone 3
  22. Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) zone 3b
  23. Mallow (Malva spp.) zone 4
  24. Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) zones 3 à 10
  25. Mustard (Brassica spp.) zone 3
  26. Nettle (Urtica spp.) zone 2
  27. Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana) annuelle
  28. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) zone 3
  29. Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) biennial vegetable
  30. Plantain (Plantago major) zone 2
  31. Plum (Prunus spp.) zones 2 à 8
  32. Poplar (Populus spp.) zones 2 à 7
  33. Red clover (Trifolium incarnatum) zone 3
  34. Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) annuelle
  35. Sorrel (Rumex spp.) zone 3
  36. Soybean (Glycine max) annual vegetable
  37. Sunflower (Helianthus spp.) annual/zones 3 à 7
  38. Thistle (Cirsium spp.) zone 2
  39. Turtlehead (Chelone spp.) zone 3
  40. Vetch (Vicia spp.) annual/zones 2 à 8
  41. Viburnum (Viburnum spp.) zones 2 à 8
  42. Violet (Viola spp.) zones 2 à 8
  43. White clover (Trifolium repens) zone 3
  44. White sweet clover (Melilotus albus) annuelle
  45. Wild carrot (Daucus carota) zone 2
  46. Wild rose (Rosa spp.) zone 2
  47. Willow (Salix spp.) zones 1 à 10
  48. Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) zone 2
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