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-   -   Butterfly Gardening Host Plants (http://www.wildlifegardeners.org/forum/butterflies-moths/174-butterfly-gardening-host-plants.html)

Cirsium 12-02-2008 12:44 PM

Butterfly Gardening Host Plants
Winter is a great time to be planning that new or improved butterfly garden. (And yes, it's definitely winter my area! :) ).

Every butterfly garden will benefit with the addition of selected host plants. Host plants are the specific plants that each species of butterfly uses to raise their young. Each species of butterfly has it's own choices of plants that it will lay eggs on, and that are able to meet the needs of it's caterpillars. For most species, the choices are quite limited. The Monarch's, for example will only use Milkweeds (Asclepias species); and the Karner Blue will only use Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis). Some butterflies are less choosy; the Painted Lady can use over 100 different plants for host plants.

'Host plants" is actually a bit of an understatement. They could more accurately be called 'Life plants'. Caterpillars cannot survive without their specific host plants. And without caterpillars there would be no butterflies.

The first step is choosing your host plants is to find out which butterflies are in your area. One good way to do this is to use the Butterfliesandmoths.org website:
Just click on your state and you will get a list of all the butterflies that have been documented in your state. You can even click on your county and get a list of all the butterflies that have been documented there.

When you click on the names of the butterflies in the list, you will get photo's of the butterflies along with a lot of information about their life cycle, etc. It also lists some of the host plants for each species; but this list of host plants is rather incomplete, so you may have to refer to some good butterfly books to get a better list of host plants

The list on the website also does not distinguish between native and invasive plants, so be sure to check out whether any plant that they list is invasive before you make your selection of host plants. You don't want invasive plants wrecking your butterfly garden or your landscape. There are plenty of wonderful native plants (every butterfly has at least one) that you can use for your 'Life plants'. Many will do double duty as excellent nectar plants for the adult butterflies.

TheLorax 12-02-2008 05:06 PM

Great points about 'life plants' as opposed to host plants.

I am familiar with the site you shared above. That's a really great resource.

trout lily 02-26-2009 09:06 PM

Beginner help needed
Would the plants that are good for the caterpillar stage be the same as the plants for the butterfly stage? Or, does each stage need a different plant? The terms confuse me; I still haven't understood the difference between a pupa and a chrysalis. Also, the difference between a life plant and a host plant. Would you suggest a website that would help?
Maybe a site for children would be good since I'm at that stage of learning. :)Thanks!

Cirsium 02-26-2009 11:10 PM


Would the plants that are good for the caterpillar stage be the same as the plants for the butterfly stage? Or, does each stage need a different plant?
Good questions - but I won't be able to be nearly as succinct with the answers. :)

Host plants are the plants that the caterpillars need to survive. The foliage is what the caterpillar uses for food. Each species of butterfly has a select group of plants that will meet the biological needs of it's caterpillars. Monarch butterfly caterpillars, for example, need milkweeds. Karner Blue butterfly caterpillars need wild lupines. The Milbert's Tortoiseshell butterfly caterpillars need nettles. So when you pick host plants you have to match the host plant up with the species of butterfly that you are interested in.

Nectar is pretty much the same no matter which plant the butterfly gets it from. Sometimes they show a preference for some particular plant, but that's all it is - a preference. It's not a biological need that they get their nectar from any particular plant. When picking nectar plants you don't have to worry about which species of butterfly will use them.

Here's where it can become confusing. ;) Many host plants are also good nectar plants. These host plants have flowers that produce nectar that the butterflies like. They will only be host plants for certain butterflies; but they will be good nectar plants for all nectar feeding butterflies.

Pupa = Chrysalis.

Life plant = Host plant. Life plant is just an expression that I've used to emphasize how important these plants are to butterflies. Butterflies cannot produce the next generation without them. Host plant just doesn't seem like a strong enough term.

If you have more questions, ask away. :)
If you'll tell me the state that you're in, I can try to gather some good butterfly gardening info specific to your state.

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