Host Plants for Butterflies & Moths

Native plants are tied to the lifecycles of numerous butterflies and moths (lepidoptera). Important not only for their nectar, native plants very often play the role of host during the caterpillar stage. Lepidoptera may deposit their eggs on one plant species, to the exclusion of others, as is the case with Monarch butterflies and milkweed plants. Others may be less exclusive when it comes to which plants will host their eggs and caterpillars, but they do have preferences.

Caterpillar Friendly Gardening

Last year's leaves, grasses and "yard waste" play an important role in the bio-community of the garden and landscape. Many butterflies and moths over-winter in fallen leaves and spent plant material from the previous season. A light-handed approach to “cleaning up” the garden allows more butterflies and moths to thrive. Avoid raking the ground clean around shrubs and in garden beds, as it can destroy the hibernation environment for the very life that you are trying to support. An article on our blog covers this topic in more detail: Meaningful Maintenance: Fall Clean-up with Positive Impact.

Habitat and Range

The likelihood of seeing particular species of butterflies or moths can be limited by to specific habitat requirements or range. On the other hand, there are many butterflies and moths that range far and wide, and are easily supported, even in urban areas.

A Few Butterflies & their Host Plants


Host Plants: Any plant of the Asclepias genus, including Red Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Showy Milkweed, Sullivant's Milkweed, Butterflyweed

painted lady

American Lady, Painted Lady 
Host Plants: Pussytoes, Ironweed, Pearly Everlasting, Rose Mallow, Thistles, Burdock,


Host Plants: Various violets, Bird's Foot Violet 


Tiger Swallowtails
Host Plants: Trees such as Ash, Birch, Chokecherry, Basswood, Poplar, Willow 

black swallowtail

Black Swallowtail
Host Plants: Members of the parsley family (Apiaceae) including Golden Alexanders

pearl crescent

Pearl Crescent, Tawny Crescent 
Host Plants: Smooth Aster, Frost Aster and other asters.

karner blue

Karner Blue, Melissa Blue 
Host Plants: Lupine 

eastern tailed blue

Eastern Tailed Blue, Hoary Edge
Host Plants: Canada Tick Trefoil, Roundheaded Bushclover


Baltimore Checkerspot 
Host Plants: White Turtlehead

duskywing butterfly

Columbine Duskywing 
Host Plants: Columbine


Common Buckeye 
Host Plants: Wild Petunia, Verbena stricta

frosted elfin

Frosted Elfin 
Host Plants: Lupine, Blue False Indigo

summer azure

Mottled Duskywing, Spring Azure, Summer Azure 
Host Plants: New Jersey Tea

How to Find More Host Plants

On our website you can use the filtering options to find a more complete list of host plants. Go to All Native Plants and look for the filter option called “Benefits.” Click on Benefits, then select Host Plants. Another resource is our Planting for Pollinators Selection Guide, which highlights numerous host plants.

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