When we think about butterfly host plants, milkweed probably comes to mind. That’s because the monarch butterfly relies on this plant to complete its life cycle.

Just like human babies need very specific nutrition in their first stage of life, the caterpillars of butterflies do, too.

And despite what most people think, the butterfly bush really isn’t the best choice for a butterfly-friendly garden.

Butterfly bush is not native to Pennsylvania and is classified as an invasive plant due to its ability to spread. (It can take several decades for invasive plants to start overtaking forests, roadsides, fields and other landscapes.)

And although it supplies nectar, it’s a nutritional dud when it comes to supporting the larval development of butterflies. Sadly, butterfly bush only supports one of 725 butterfly species in North America.

To build a true butterfly garden, consider planting more native plants that caterpillars can nibble on before they turn into the butterflies we love to see in our landscapes. (And of course, don’t use pesticides, as this can outright kill or severely impair butterfly species in all stages of development.)


Butterfly host plants

If you want to see butterflies in your neighborhood, you need to plant host plants each species is adapted to. Trust me, gardening gets a lot more fun when you do this!

As always, make sure the trees, shrubs, flowering plants and grasses below are a good match for your planting space’s sun exposure and soil moisture situation.

  • Monarch butterflies. Host plants: Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Spicebush swallowtail. Host plants: Sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum), Northern spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
  • Spring azure. Host plants: New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus), arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)
  • Dusted skipper. Host plants: Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • Zebra swallowtail. Host plant: Pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba)
  • Mourning cloak, viceroy. Host plant: Pussywillow (Salix discolor)
  • Fritillary butterflies. Host plants: Violets (Viola)
  • Tiger swallowtail. Host plant: Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
  • Brown elfin. Host plants: Blueberries (Vaccinium)
  • Henry’s elfin. Host plant: Redbud tree (Cercis canadensis)
  • Coral hairstreak. Host plant: Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
  • Silvery checkerspot. Host plant: Oxeye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)
  • Baltimore checkerspot. Host plant: Hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus)
  • Painted lady. Host plant: Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
  • Wild indigo duskywing. Host plant: False blue indigo (Baptisia australis)
  • Eastern comma. Host plant: Common hackberry tree (Celtis occidentalis)

These are just a few examples … the list goes on and on. Happy planting.

Contact the writer: leah.zerbe@gmail.com