Feeding Caterpillars and Butterflies

The other day a friend posted a picture on Facebook from a walk showing a young Monarch caterpillar happily munching away on some milkweed. I immediately ran out to my little patch of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) in hopes that I would see some Monarch caterpillars enjoying a plant feast. Sadly no such luck. Of course what is my luck is finding a big Tomato Hornworm eating away on my tomato plant, so apparently I have no trouble attracting those to my yard.

Between the milkweed and the tomato, the monarch and the tomato hornworm, it got me thinking about what other plants provide food sources for butterfly caterpillars. Depending on what you want to try and attract will guide what type of plants you would need to add to your yard or garden. Even if you only have a small space and are restricted to growing plants in containers, there are definitely options available to all gardeners.

So we've already mentioned Monarch caterpillars – larva feed on various species of milkweed which actually helps in their survival since the milkweed contains a toxic sap that makes them unappealing to predators. Below is just a quick guideline to various food sources for a few different butterflies, both nectar sources for adults and food sources for larva. Make sure to include both nectar and food sources if you are trying to attract certain butterflies.

Larval Food Sources

Monarchs - Milkweed

Black Swallowtail – Dill, Carrot, Parsley

Tiger Swallowtail - Cherry, Ash, Birch, Apple, Cottonwood, Willow, Lilac

Painted Lady – Thistle, Legumes, Knapweed, Burdock, Hollyhock, Common Mallow

Viceroy – Willow, Poplar, Plum, Apple, Cherry

Variegated Fritillary - Violets, Pansies, Purslane, Sedum

Eastern Tailed Blue - Vetch, Clovers, Alfalfa, Yellow Sweet Clover

Adult Nectar Sources

Monarchs - Milkweed, Goldenrod, Cosmos, Joe Pye weed, Thistle, Liatris, Lilac, Lantana

Black Swallowtail - Milkweed, Thistle, Phlox, Clover, Alfalfa

Tiger Swallowtail - Thistle, Milkweed, Phlox, Clover, Joe Pye Weed, Bee Balm/Monarda, Sunflower

Painted Lady - Thistle, Joe Pye Weed, Aster, Bee Balm/Monarda, Liatris, Zinnia

Viceroy - Thistle, Joe Pye Weed, Aster, Goldenrod, Milkweed

Variegated Fritillary - Common Milkweed, Dogbane, Red Clover

Eastern Tailed Blue - Cinquefoil, Wild Strawberry, White Clover, Dogbane, Butterfly Weed, Asters

As you can see – there are a lot of nectar sources that overlap for various butterflies making planning for attracting butterflies that much easier. If you are looking towards adding perennials and/or trees to your garden look at some of the nectar and food sources for butterflies and see what you can do to provide a butterfly friendly habit. These are just a few butterflies that you can attract in Illinois gardens and there are various resources and books available that can provide more guidance.