Host Plants

While many people think of planting flowers that will provide food for butterflies and other pollinators they tend to forget about the most important plants, those that provide food for the caterpillars of the species.

I love my Wisteria, not only because it is beautiful and fragrant in the Spring when it blooms but also because it is the host plant of the Silver Spotted Skipper butterfly.  Yes, it means that it gets tatty and chewed this time of year but if it means the next generation of Silver Spotted Skippers is guaranteed then I am happy to have the chewed look.  Today I wandered out there and noticed the tell-tale signs of the small tents that the caterpillars create to shelter in during the time that they are not feeding.

The Caterpillars weave two leaves together and then use it to hide from predators while they are not actively feeding.   While I was taking this shot, I noticed a female laying eggs on the leaves of the trumpet vine and Japanese privet right next to the Wisteria.  Apparently Mom like her kids to find their food and does not actually lay her eggs on the Wisteria but lays them close by.

The other common host plant is any member of the parsley family.  These include parsley, cilantro, dill, fennel, carrots,  and the common weed Queen Anne’s Lace.  The Black Swallowtail butterfly uses these plants to raise her young.  For me these have been the most reliable of host plants, and ones that have provided the most opportunities to follow the cycle from the egg to the chrysalis to the birth of the butterfly.  Right now I have caterpillars on my fennel and after having chomped down most of the plants in the pot I was able to move another pot of Bronze Fennel from the garden area to the patio to make sure that my boys do not run out of food.

For an example of that please go here

For some reason photobucket would not allow me to post the pictures in the right order so you have to start from the end and go backwards.  It is worth it.

I have several Tulip Poplars on my property and they are known for being the host plant of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  I have only ever seen one caterpillar on my trees, but that is mainly due to the fact that the canopy of these trees tend to be up to twenty feet above ground, and as such I have no hope of taking any shots of the caterpillars.  When my husband was clearing out the brush at the back of our property he gave me a can of spray paint and told me to mark all of the seedlings that I wanted kept.  I can guarantee you I sprayed all of the Tulip Poplar seedlings.

Canna, as well as being tough, tolerant of abuse, and completely impossible to kill, are also the host plant for the Brazilian Skipper.  During my 20 years here in NC I have only once been able to photograph a newly hatched Brazilian Skipper and it was quite simply a joy.   Unfortunately it was a long time ago and before the time that I could save the shot on line.

Another plant that is easy to grow and utterly beautiful is Passion Flower.  Not only is the flower absolutely gorgeous, but it’s fruits can be used for jams and jellies, its most important use though is that it is the host plant for the Varigated Fritilliary butterfly.

Milkweed is well known for being the host plant of the Monarch Butterfly, and anyone who can get a hold of the plants should put some in their landscape. I attempted to raise some from saved seed this winter but unfortunately, for whatever reason, my collected seeds did not germinate.    Recent losses of migrating flocks of Monarchs in Mexico makes it all the more critical that we raise the next generation here in the US.  Unfortunately Milkweed (or Butterfly Weed) plants are not readily available in garden centers or the big box stores.  However, like everything, if we bug them often enough, garden centers and big box stores WILL stock something that people want to buy.  So go out and lobby your local garden centers, tell them you WANT Butterfly Weed plants for your garden.  Together we can do our bit to repopulate the Monarchs.


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