Take your butterfly garden to the next level

Are you ready to take your butterfly gardening to the next level and allow some of your beautiful plants to be eaten by caterpillars?

Choose the right plants, give them some care, and voila — caterpillars. The most grown caterpillar food in our gardens are milkweeds for monarchs and parsley for black swallowtails. By adding a few more native shrubs, perennials and annuals, as well as allowing certain weeds to remain, the caterpillar café could be open in no time.


Growing between 6 to 12 feet in full sun or part shade, spice bush, a native deciduous shrub, is dioecious which means there are separate male and female plants. The female plants bear red drupes after being cross pollinated by a male plant. The flowers appear before the leaves and are bright yellow and fragrant. After the leaves are consumed by spicebush swallowtail caterpillars, they turn yellow in the fall. The leaves have a unique fragrance when crushed.

Boasting stunning white flowers in late spring, blackhaw viburnum, growing 12 to 15 feet, is a deciduous shrub that can be grown in full sun to part shade. These flowers turn into blue drupes that persist into winter and become bird food. These blue drupes contrast nicely with the red fall foliage. Spring azures, Baltimore checkerspots and clear wing hummingbird moth caterpillars will populate this plant.


Usually detested by those who want the perfect lawn, clover, violets, and plantains are celebrated by this gardener as early sources of bee food. These unwanted plants may be munched on by clouded sulphur and buckeye caterpillars.


Snapdragons are cool season annuals selected to weather the summer heat. They make great additions to any garden or pot that gives them full sun. They grow about 1 to 2 feet tall and come in a plethora of colors. The blooms may attract the butterflies and hummingbirds, but they serve as a food source for buckeye caterpillar.

Start sunflowers from seed in your garden for plants that bloom in the summer. Thriving on full sun, they can reach 3 to 10 feet depending on the type you choose. A plant coveted by most birds, it usually doesn’t have the most attractive leaves by the end of the season so let the caterpillars of gorgone checkerspot or silvery checkerspot dine away.


A native shrub, lead plant, has dissected gray leaves and hairy stems. Its summer flowers are dense spikes with bluish-purple blooms that are enjoyed by butterflies. Grown in full sun the plant reaches and spreads 2 to 3 feet. The leaves are munched on by southern dogface caterpillar.

Purple coneflower, a gardener’s favorite, is an easy to grow native plant. Grown in full sun, it usually doesn’t have many problems looking attractive during the season unless large groups of silvery checkerspot begin eating the leaves. However, these durable plants will send up more leaves and the most beautiful long-lasting blooms.

By planting groupings of these six plants, I may have an opportunity to photograph the black and brown spiky, silvery checkerspot caterpillar; green, black, and yellow striped southern dogface caterpillar; orange and black with flecks of blue iridescent buckeye caterpillar; and the infamous bright green to yellow snake looking caterpillar of spicebush swallowtail. My posts may get a few likes, but the butterfly garden in my backyard will have just achieved a new status of further increasing the ecosystem to feed the caterpillars of the butterflies I want to see.