What do caterpillars eat? host plants!
An excellent book that will help with choosing what caterpillar food plants to grow in your area is The Family Butterfly BookВ by Rick Mikula. It has a section about best butterflies, host plants, and nectar plants, broken down by regions of the US including Hawaii, Alaska and parts of Canada. It is well illustrated with a lot of good information about raising butterflies. Here is a listВ of some common and/or popular backyard garden butterflies and what their caterpillars eat. Joyful Butterfly sells several of these plants and seeds. All of ourВ plants, and of course,В seedsВ are safe for caterpillars and butterflies. Some of the plants listed below can be found in local nurseries but ask about pesticide use if you are planning to buy them to feed caterpillars.
Dutchman’s Pipe, pipevines (not the exotics), Virginia snakeroot
spicebushВ (primarily), sassafras, camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora), various bays (PerseaВ spp.)
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
many broadleaf trees and shrubs, lilac, willow, birch, tuliptree, cherry
apple, aspen, cherry, hawthorn, hornbeam, poplar, willow
Violets,В (Viola tricolor), pansies, stonecrops, passionflowers (Passiflora incarnata), plantains
elm, hackberry, hop, nettle,В false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica)
members of the mallow family,В Malva sylvestris, Tree mallow (Lavatera), thistles, goosefoots
American Painted Lady
daisies, everlastings, other composites, Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)
Buckeye plantain, snapdragon, stonecrop, verbena,В (Verbena bonariensis), other garden flowers
turtlehead (primarily), false foxglove, plantain, white ash
blueberry, California lilac, dogwoods, meadowsweet, viburnums
Dogface false indigo, clovers, lupine, vetch, leadplant
passionflowers, Passiflora incarnata, Passiflora caerulea
Monarch butterfliesВ andВ Black Swallowtail butterfliesВ (Anise Swallowtail butterflies in the West) are popular, easy, and beautiful caterpillars/butterflies to raise indoors. They are found throughout most of the US and beyond. If you are new to raising butterflies then you may want to start by planting what these caterpillars eat. Parsley (curly or flat leaf) and common rue are my personal favorites for Black Swallowtail caterpillars in my Southeast area andВ Tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)В is my current favorite for the Monarch caterpillars.
These plants are attractive and well behaved in a garden setting and theВ MilkweedВ has the added advantage of being a popular nectar plant as well. Parsley can be found in most local garden centers (but ask around about pesticides that may have been used on the plants – it will kill the caterpillars).
TheВ common rue plantВ is a perennial and will start easily from seeds or cuttings. Tropical milkweed starts easily from seed and is a quick growing annual. You can harvest the seed in the Fall to start your new plants next Spring.
Many people already haveВ nectar plantsВ in their gardens that attract some butterflies. By adding what the caterpillars eat you will greatly increase the number and duration of butterflies and this gives you the opportunity to watch the amazingВ life cycle of a butterflyВ in your own garden!