Even though host plants (food for caterpillars) aren’t top-of-mind when planning a butterfly garden, no butterfly garden is complete without these important, ‘behind-the-scenes’, plants.
Host plants are the nurseries of the garden. If you keep an eye out you’ll see the female as she flits around the plant, gently laying her next brood’s eggs, sometimes on the stems, sometimes on the top of leaves but usually on the bottom, hidden from predators.
Then, in 10 to 14 days, the tiny larvae, less than an eighth inch long, emerge and begin eating the plant. It’s a fascinating process as they munch away, growing larger everyday. Equally fascinating is watching the caterpillar leave the plant to form a chrysalis.
Host plants range from flowering plants like Milkweed and Passion Vine, to herbs like Fennel, to bushes as well as trees like Sweet Bay Magnolia. Be sure to check the USDA Hardiness Zone map to see what plants will grow in your area.
By including both host plants and nectar plants in your garden, you can attract a wider selection of butterflies while providing an environment that supports their entire life cycle.