Caterpillar Host Plants Database Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum, London. A database of host plants all over the world. One of the best clues to “what kind of caterpillar is this” is what plant it is eating! In turn, if you want to provide a habitat for a particular moth or butterfly, here is where you can look up what it will eat.
Some Great Plants for Attracting Butterflies in Central North Carolina
A true butterfly garden needs to have nectar sources for adults, host plants for larvae to feed on, and shelter, which can be provided by any number of plants. Will Cook has done a great job compiling a list of plants and info on butterfly gardening from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Ann’s Butterfly Garden Photos From Ann’s Garden in Columbia, SC. A web site on butterfly gardening in South Carolina.
Butterfly Gardening at the Butterfly Site Lots of information and links about butterfly gardening.
Butterflies are creatures of warmth and sun, and most of the flowers they are attracted to are sun-lovers too.
Generally speaking, it’s better to plant several plants together to create a mass of color than to have single plants scattered around.
Plan your garden to support the whole butterfly life cycle, not just the adults that nectar at flowers. Butterflies will lay eggs only on the plants that will nourish their caterpillars. This is species-specific. For example, monarchs use milkweed for their caterpillars. Eastern Black Swallowtails use dill, fennel, parsley, and other members of that plant family. Find out what
butterflies you can expect to see in your area and what plants they will use as larval food. Plant them, and watch for caterpillars!
One thing to beware of when buying plants for caterpillars is that many commercial nurseries have applied pesticides to their plants, either by spraying them or through systemic application, which means they can’t be washed off. Caterpillars that eat poisoned plants will die. You can pretty much expect that plants purchased at the garden department of your local mega-store will fall in this category. Try to find a local nursery that is knowledgeable about butterflies and ASK if they have put pesticides on their plants. Best bet: nurseries with plants that have caterpillars thriving on them!
Another thing to consider is planting with native plants. Native habitats are constantly being destroyed by new development, and butterfly populations suffer as a result of this. A good local nursery that carries native plants is a great place for more information about this. Information about native plant nurseries in the Carolinas is available on the main Gardening page of this website.
Also: beware of fancy hybrids. They look beautiful, but very often the breeding process that produces the lovely blossoms also reduces or eliminates the quantity of nectar that is produced. If there is no nectar, butterflies have no use for the flowers.
A starting list of nectar plants for your yard & garden might include:
- Butterfly bush
- Homestead Verbena
- Purple Coneflower
- Glossy Abelia
- Pineapple Sage
- Baby’s Breath
- Apple Mint
- Mountain Mint
- Gayfeather (Liatris)
- Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)
- Morning Glory
- Moonflower Vine
- Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
- Bee Balm
- Garden Phlox
- Red Penta
- Red and Purple Sages
- Coreopsis (Tickseed)
A starting list of Larval Food plants for caterpillars might include the following. Note: this list applies in the Southeast United States and is very general. It may or may not apply where you live, and does not apply universally even in the Southeast.
- Dill, Fennel, Parsley, etc: Black Swallowtails
- Passionflower Vine: Gulf and Variegated Fritillaries
- Pansies/violets: Variegated Fritillaries
- Cassia/Senna: Sulphurs, Sleepy Orange
- Cabbage, mustards: Cabbage Whites
- Spicebush (Lindera benzoin): Spicebush Swallowtail
- Pipevine (Aristolachia): Pipevine Swallowtail
- Milkweed: Monarchs
There are many resources for more information about butterfly gardening. Check other sections in the gardening area of this web site, the Links & Resources page, your local library, your local butterfly society, native plant nurseries, etc. Happy Gardening!!!!
Nurseries in and near the Carolinas
Please note that listings are not endorsements, critiques, or official recommendations by the Carolina Butterfly Society.
Carolina Wild in Anderson, SC.
Meadowbrook Nursery, Marion, NC.
Rarebird Nursery, Castalia, NC
(The website for this nursery no longer exists, so they may not be there anymore.)
Sunlight Gardens, Andersonville, TN
Woodley’s Garden Center, Columbia, SC
On December 4-5 2002 in the Piedmont of North Carolina we had a very bad ice storm and many of the larger Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) trees split to pieces leaving only a short trunk. The main reason for this was the fact that the leaves hadn`t fallen yet and the small fruits remaining on the trees enabled the ice to gather in larger mass than most other trees. Granted this is a very popular ornamental tree and its use is wide spread so many mature trees were lost.
A mature Bradford Pear downed by the December 4-5 2002 ice storm in Durham, NC.
Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’) is a rapid grower (12 to 15 feet increase in height over an 8- to 10-year period) it grows 30 to 50 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide and it has a short to moderate life span (25 to 30 years) The Bradford Pear is a very beautiful shaped tree that`s fast growing and has nice white flowers and fall foliage. This is all good but its not a nature friendly tree nor a native tree. Butterflies ignore it entirely, birds rarely eat the fruits maybe squirrels will eat them. I have seen American Robins and Cedar Waxwings eating the tiny pear fruits only when the ground was covered in snow and ice preventing anything else to be foraged. At the Greensboro NC Police Station the Bradford Pear trees have twice to three times the normal fruit size. A new hybrid? I don’t know about or just a freak year for the trees?
Discussions on Bradford Pears can be found at a Yahoo Group called NativePlantseast you will have to join the group (free) to read or join in the discussion.
Tree Replacements for your Butterfly Garden
So you have a butterfly garden and of course want more butterfly visitors then forget replanting your Bradford Pear(s) then and try perhaps a American Plum (Prunus americana) tree. I have seen many many butterflies on the flowers which bloom for about 2 weeks each year in late March and early April when there`s no other nectar sources to be found in mass. Butterflies I have seen on my American "Wild" Plum include Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Cabbage White, Falcate Orangetip, Great Purple Hairstreak, Henry`s Elfin, Eastern Pine Elfin, White M Hairstreak, Gray Hairstreak, Red-banded Hairstreak, Spring Azure, American Snout, Question Mark, Eastern Comma, Mourning Cloak, American Lady, Red Admiral, Common Buckeye, Sleepy Duskywing and Juvenal`s Duskywing. Also it is a host plant to Coral Hairstreak and Viceroy butterflies which is another plus for this native tree.
American Plum (Prunus americana) grows fairly slow usually to 25-35 feet tall and 20 feet wide and can form a thicket of trees if left unattended (this will really bring in the butterflies). Another reason I like American Plum is its fragrance a few days a year it can be quite intoxicating not to mention the masses of butterflies covering it. It requires partial shade to full sun and no special planting needs, the leaves turn yellow and drop very early in the fall and present no ice hazard at all. In July it has small plums that can be quite tasty if the squirrels leave any, if left to rot then Question Mark, Eastern Comma and Red-spotted Purple can be found on them as well.
To make this tree a ornamental you will have to keep it at bay with moderate pruning of limbs and suckers at the base once or twice a year. You can easily propagate it with cuttings.
Buying American Plum is a problem as most nurseries have several kinds of ornamental plums and likely would not know one from the other. you might try this web site Native Plants Vendor List for North Carolina: you will find a comprehensive list of nurseries with addresses and phone numbers for most of the United States.
Other native trees to attract butterflies you might consider are:
Black Willow (Salix nigra): Although not a flowering tree it is a host plant to many butterflies like Mourning Cloak, Viceroy and Red-spotted Purple.
Chickasaw Plum (Prunus angustifolia): A thicket forming plum which can be quite thorny it is a much shorter growing tree and can grow into huge thickets. Its likely the best butterfly early spring nectar source in the Carolinas. This tree doesn’t grow very pretty and is not for those who want the "perfect" garden. I have seen around 30 butterfly species on this tree and have found wild thickets that were acres in size.
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis): A beautiful spring bloomer that attracts many butterflies and is host plant for Henry’s Elfin. One of my personal favorites and an abundant native in my yard, great for woodland edges.
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida): A beautiful flowering tree that the flowers are eaten by Spring Azure caterpillars.
Juneberry or Serviceberry(Amelanchier sp.): I"d never heard of them, I learned of them from Bob Perkins. I found this web page at eat-it.com on Juneberries and fond that I did indeed know of them as Serviceberry which I savored the fruit on a backpacking trip in West Virginia once. In the mountains they were easy to find as the local bears tend to break down the taller limbs to get to the berries. Paulette Haywood suggests a Service berry called ‘Autumn Brilliance’ (Amelanchier X grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’) is really spectacular and available in the nursery trade. It has loads of small white blossoms in the spring which are visited by butterflies, berries in the summer which are devoured by birds, and gorgeous red fall foliage.
PawPaw (Asminia parviflora): The host plant for Zebra Swallowtail and a very tasty fruit. I found this article on Cooking with Pawpaws from the Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension Program. Don’t forget the see this site from KSU called the Pawpaw Information Web Site
Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana): A fruiting tree that anglewimgs and American Buckeyes can be found eating the fruit. People and other wildlife enjoy the fruits as well.
Wild Cherry: A host to several butterflies like Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple and Coral Hairstreak.
Thanks to Carolina Butterfly Society members and CarolinaLeps listserve members Nancy Baldwin, Sharon Funderburk, Paulette Haywood, Bob Perkins and Sandy Pruitt for suggestions on this article.
Posted September 2002 by Ann Kinsinger, Columbia, SC
The main factor in choosing plants for me – aside from butterfly attraction power – is the ability to withstand heat, sun, humidity, and sandy soil. Where I live, this is a serious consideration. Fortunately, many good butterfly plants fit this bill. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the good old nectar standards: Butterfly bush (Buddleia Davidii), lantana, homestead verbena, verbena bonariensis, pineapple sage, purple cone flower, glossy abelia, red pentas, Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus), apple mint, petunias, dianthus of various kinds, Garden Phlox, Joe-Pye Weed, and more.
My surprise popular nectar flower this summer is Pink Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila). Who ever heard of Baby’s Breath as a butterfly plant??? I bought three of them last fall because they had Eastern-Tailed Blues nectaring on them at the nursery. They have thrived in my garden – full sun, sandy soil, SC Midlands heat – with no special care. They started blooming in April, and are still going strong. In addition to the Eastern-Tailed Blues, I have seen Common Buckeyes, Fiery Skippers, and Gray Hairstreaks nectar on them. The Gray Hairstreaks in particular are extremely fond of it and will spend long periods of time there.
I don’t have many Larval Food Plants yet in my garden. This year I tried Licorice Plant (Helichrysum petiolatum), which attracts American Ladies. It did pretty well until the end of summer, when the extended heat/drought finally did it in, even though it got watered. Cassia corymbosa is an LFP for the Cloudless Sulphurs and Sleepy Oranges, and I had caterpillars for both on mine last fall. I expect more this year. I also have several Bronze Fennel plants, and have had several generations of Eastern Black Swallowtails this summer, with a bumper crop going right now. I had to go out and buy more plants to support all the eggs I am finding! Last fall, I also planted what I thought was Lindera for the Spicebush Swallowtails, but when it bloomed this spring, it became clear that whatever it is, it isn’t Lindera. The flower is all wrong. In a few weeks I am planning a trip to the We-Du Nursery in North Carolina, where I hope to get some REAL Lindera.
Another surprise was finding a buckeye caterpillar on my diascia this last spring. Turns out diascia is a cousin of the snapdragon, which is a known larval food for the common buckeye. After that, I tried putting out pots of diascia in the garden as I had many buckeyes flying around at that point in time, but no more little caterpillars.