Food for Caterpillars

Monarch Caterpillar on Swamp Milkweed Leaf: David Mizejewski

Gardeners can play can play a key role in restoring lost habitat of host plants for many types of butterflies and moths.

Discovering which caterpillar foods you can bring to your garden to support new and interesting native butterflies offers an opportunity to try out different types of native flowering plants. The more caterpillar food you have in your yard, will also attract different types of birds.

Most butterflies and moths can only rely on certain plants, shrubs or trees to feed their young. For example, the caterpillar of the monarch butterfly can only eat milkweed leaves to survive. In one of nature’s unique designs, the plant toxins are safe for the caterpillars, but are a poison to the caterpillar’s predators.

To learn which species of butterflies and moths are native to where you live and to find the native plants that host them, go to the Native Plant Finder and type in your zip code.

  • Acmon Blue - buckwheat, lupines, milkvetch
  • American Painted Lady - cudweed, everlast
  • Baird's Swallowtail - dragon sagebrush
  • Black Swallowtail - parsley, dill, fennel, common rue
  • Coral Hairstreak - wild black cherry, American and chickasaw plum, black chokeberry
  • Dun Skipper - sedges, grasses including purpletop
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail - wild black cherry, ash, tulip tree, willow, sweetbay, basswood
  • Giant Swallowtail - prickly ash, citrus, common rue, hoptree, gas plant, torchwood
  • Gray Comma - gooseberry, azalea, elm
  • Great Purple Hairstreak - mistletoe
  • Gulf Fritillary - maypops, other passion vines
  • Henry's Elfin - redbud, dahoon and yaupon hollies, maple-leaved viburnum, blueberries
  • Monarch - milkweeds
  • Painted Lady (Cosmopolite) - thistles, mallows, nievitas, yellow fiddleneck
  • Pygmy Blue - saltbush, lamb's quarters, pigweed
  • Red Admiral/White Admiral - wild cherries, black oaks, aspens, yellow and black birch
  • Silver-Spotted Skipper - locusts, wisteria, other legumes
  • Spicebush Swallowtail - sassafras, spicebush
  • Sulphurs - clover, peas, vetch, alfalfa, asters
  • Variegated Fritillary - passion flower, maypop, violets, stonecrop, purslane
  • Viceroy - willows, cottonwood, aspen
  • Western Tailed Blue - vetches, milkvetches
  • Western Tiger Swallowtail - willow, plum, alder, sycamore, hoptree, ash
  • Woodland Skipper - grasses
  • Zebra Swallowtail - pawpaw

Where We Work

More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. The National Wildlife Federation is on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

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