If you love butterflies and moths and are concerned about their population declines, then this is the post for you! I’ve listed out 10 great butterfly host plants to grow. Latest studies show that Western butterfly population are decreasing on average 1.6% each year, with the beloved Western Monarch experiencing a 99.9% population decline since the 1980s.
But not all hope is lost! We each have the power to help reverse this trend from our own yards. It all comes down to the plants we choose to grow. We need more butterfly host plants!
What is a Host Plant?
A host plant is a plant that butterflies and moths lay their eggs on. They lay their eggs on specific plants that they know their caterpillars will be able to eat. Butterfly host plants can also be called larval host plants or caterpillar host plants.
Most of the time these are native plants that the butterflies and moths have evolved alongside. Monarchs and milkweed are the classic example of the butterfly and host plant relationship.
However, many of the over 500 species of butterflies in the US rely on a small group of related plant species to lay their eggs. For instance, Pipevine Swallowtails only lay their eggs on pipevines, Gulf Fritillaries only lay their eggs on passionflower.
What is a Nectar Plant?
Nectar plants and host plants aren’t necessarily the same thing. While both are important butterfly plants, nectar plants provide food for adult butterflies and moths. They come to these flowering plants to drink the nectar.
However host plants provide food for the butterfly caterpillars. That food is typically in the form of a leaf! A single plant can serve as both a host plant and a nectar plant.
What are Good Butterfly Plants?
If you want to get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to adding host plants to your yard, plant a native tree! Trees are some of the best host plants, and some species like Oaks serve as host plants for hundreds of species. If you want to attract a particular type of butterfly to your yard, make sure you have some of its host plants growing!
Favorite Butterflies and their Host Plants
Here are some popular butterflies and the host plants you’ll need to attract them. Use plants that are native to your area when possible:
- Monarch – Milkweed
- Gulf Fritillary – Passionvines
- Painted Lady – Thistles and Mallows
- Giant Swallowtail – Hop Tree, Toothache Tree, Citrus Trees
- Pipevine Swallowtail – Pipevine
- Eastern Swallowtail – Dill, Parsley, Fennel, Rue, Queen Anne’s Lace
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Top 10 Butterfly Host Plants to Grow in Texas
Below are some of the best host plants you can plant in Texas (and many parts of the US!). This is not a comprehensive list, but a curated list of plants you are most likely to find at a nursery, and you’d be most likely to grow in your yard!
Next to each species is the number of different moths and butterflies it supports as a host plant. These numbers are from the National Wildlife Foundation Native Plant Finder, which is based off of Doug Tallamy’s research. Information about each plant is from the book Native Texas Plants by Sally Wasowski.
Best Texas Host Plants: Trees and Shrubs
1. Oak (Quercus) – 468
Of all the host plants you can add to your yard, Oaks reign supreme! They serve as host plants for hundreds of different butterflies and moths. There are 44 species of Oaks that are native to Texas, so find one that is native to your ecoregion.
Here in San Antonio, we are lucky to have the beautiful Live Oaks (Quercus fusiformis). We have six of them growing in our yard, serving as the foundation for our Certified Wildlife Habitat!
2. Plum or Cherry (Prunus) – 270
The Mexican Plum (Prunus mexicana) is one of my favorite native flowering trees of Texas. Not only does it look beautiful in bloom in the spring, it is a great butterfly host plant to add to your yard.
Also consider these Plums and Cherries, depending on your Texas ecoregion:
- Flatwoods Plum (Prunus umbellata) – East Texas
- Oklahoma Plum (Prunus garcilis) – North Texas
- Creek Plum (Prunus rivularis) – Central Texas
- Cherry Laurel (Prunus caroliniana) – East Texas
- Escarpment Black Cherry (Prunus serotina var. eximia) – Hill Country
3. Willow (Salix) – 229
Try the Black Willow (Salix nigra) which can be found across the eastern two-thirds of Texas and across much of the US. This fast growing tree is a host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Viceroy, Mourning Cloak and Red-Spotted Admiral Butterflies. (Source).
4. Hickory or Pecan (Carya) -189
The Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) is the State Tree of Texas! This tall tree can be found along streams throughout the state. It is a great wildlife tree – the pecans feed small mammals and birds (and humans too!). It is host plant to the Gray Hairstreak Butterfly among others.
The Black Hickory (Carya texana) is a great host plant tree for East Texas. It is a host plant for gorgeous moths including the Luna, Funeral Dagger, and Giant Regal Moths. (Source)
Best Texas Butterfly Plants: Flowers and Grasses
5. Goldenrod (Solidago) -82
Goldenrods are one of the best herbaceous plants you can add to your yard as host plants. They support around 80 different butterflies and moths. Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima) is a great fall bloomer and beautiful addition to your wildflower bed.
6. Sunflower (Helianthus) – 81
Sunflowers are another powerhouse host plant, in addition to providing seeds for wildlife. Try the Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – plant some in your yard today!
7. Prickly Pear (Opuntia) – 27
The State Plant of Texas is also a great host plant! Pollinators also enjoy the nectar from its large yellow blooms.
8. Big Bluestem (Andropogon) – 22
Native grasses make great butterfly host plants too. Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardi) is a beautiful ornamental grass that does well throughout Texas. It is one of the Big Four prairie grasses. It is host plant to many different kinds of Skippers (a cross between a butterfly and a moth).
9. Evening Primrose (Oenothera) – 22
Pink Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa) is one of my favorite native wildflowers in my wildflower garden. This beautiful pink flower doubles as a nectar plant and host plant. The Oenothera species is host plant to 22 different butterflies and moths.
10. Milkweed (Asclepias) – 22
The most well-known host plant of them all! Did you know there are over 30 types of milkweed native to Texas? Not only are these crucial host plants for the monarch, but they support over 20 species of butterflies. My favorite milkweed native to the Texas Hill Country is Antelope Horns Milkweed.
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- Oak (Quercus) – 468
- Plum or Cherry (Prunus) – 270
- Willow (Salix) – 229
- Hickory or Pecan (Carya) -189
- Goldenrod (Solidago) -82
- Sunflower (Helianthus) – 81
- Prickly Pear (Opuntia) – 27
- Big Bluestem (Andropogon) – 22
- Evening Primrose (Oenothera) – 22
- Milkweed (Asclepias) – 22
Top Butterfly Host Plants to Grow in Texas
(in order of # of butterfly and moth species they support)
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