Planting for Butterflies: Caterpillar Host Plants

If you are thinking about starting a butterfly garden, knowing our native butterfly species and their caterpillar host plants is one of the keys to offering an attractive environment. Some of our butterfly species will lay their eggs on many plants, while others specialize and use only one type. By adding these plants to your garden, you can support butterflies through their entire lifecycle.

This guide is by no means a complete list of all our local butterflies, but it does include some of the most well-known!

Black Swallowtail caterpillars feed on carrots, dill, fennel, golden alexander, parsley and rattlesnake master. If you are planting parsley, dill or fennel in your garden, plant enough to allow for the caterpillars in case they show up!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails nest on a variety of trees, including ash, birch, cherry, hickory, poplar, serviceberry, tulip tree and willow.

Great Spangled Fritillaries are likely a common site if your garden has our native violets. These caterpillars host on several species of violets.

Monarch butterflies host solely on Asclepias species, or milkweed as they are commonly known. There are many types of milkweed, native to different regions throughout their migratory area. In Virginia, Asclepias tuberosa (butterfy weed), Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) and Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed) are native.

Red Spotted Purples host primarily on trees, including aspen, birch, cottonwood, hawthorn, oak species, poplar, wild cherry and willows.

Painted Lady butterflies lay their eggs on hollyhock, ironweed, Joe-Pye weed, rose mallow, sunflower and thistle.

Looking for more pollinator information?

Plant Nova Natives is a great place to learn about more of our local plants to support our native butterflies, and the Pollinator Partnership is an excellent resource for those looking to learn more about pollinators across the United States.