Plants to attract caterpillars?

juntawillow(5 - Chicagoland Area)April 12, 2011

Hi there... I've got to little girls and we recently picked up the butterfly garden from Insect Lore. After we set these butterflies free, I thought it would be nice to try and capture our own caterpillars to bring to the habitat. What type of plants are they attracted to? I'd like to plant something to attract them this spring -zone 5. I know they like milkweed but that's about ALL I know... Any particular variety? Any other perennials? We have a ton of perennials, but I've never seen one caterpillar so we must not have the right ones! Thanks for your help!

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By mentioning milkweed, you imply expectations of attracting Monarch caterpillars.

It looks like the Insect Lore butterfly garden ships with Painted Lady butterfly caterpillars. To attract Painted Lady butterflies to lay eggs in your garden, refer to this Forum's FAQ topic on hostplants, and scroll down to the list of plants for Painted Ladies (they are in the brush-foots section).

If you want to attract Monarch caterpillars, milkweed is your best bet, but I think it is only an annual in zone 5 and may need to be replanted most years.

Other forum members will surely have more advice on both butterflies.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 11:44PM
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mechelle_m(z9 TX)

If you want to attract monarch or queen butterflies, plant milkweed. For black swallowtails, plant carrots, rue, parsley, dill or fennel. For giant swallowtails, plant citrus trees or rue. For cloudless sulphur butterflies, plant cassia trees. For gulf fritillary, plant passionvines (but not the red flowering ones, they tend to be too toxic for the caterpillars). The host plant is what the butterfly lays her eggs on so the caterpillars will have a food source. They will only lay eggs on their host plants.

I believe there is a more complete list in the FAQ section.


    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 11:44PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

I got started raising butterflies like this - I'd see a butterfly flying outside, and I'd refer to my field guide to identify the butterfly, which also told which host plants that particular butterfly used. The FAQ section on this forum is excellent, because it lists only PROVEN host plants for each species - there is some misinformation from other sources. For many butterflies, the host plant already grows on my property, in which case, I'd make it a point to give those plants priority. If the host plant doesn't, I'd go about getting that plant, either from mail-order sources or I'd propagate my own from roadside plants, then either plant it in my garden, or out somewhere in my woods or woods edge.
By doing it one butterfly at the time, you can absorb all the information without getting overwhelmed and really enjoy what you're doing.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 3:48PM
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bandjzmom(7 NWGeorgia)

juntawillow, These nice people have given great advice! The thing you are trying to attract is the butterflies to come to your yard and lay their eggs onto their "host" plants there. Your primary goal is to educate yourself about what host plants each butterfly uses, and then plant as many of those as you can into your yard, or you can also offer the host plants in pots. It's also good to offer many great nectar sources for the butterflies as well. I can recommend a book which is a really nice basic reference for someone who is starting out. It's one of my favs among my library of butterfly reference books. Good luck with your butterfly gardening, and come back and post often. This forum is a terrific source of information and lots of friendly people who are happy to help!~Angie

Here is a link that might be useful: Great Butterfly Book..

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 9:07AM
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terryr(z5a IL)

I've only been lurking, since there's no butterflies yet in my area. I came out of lurking to correct that milkweed is only an annual in zone 5. We have a lot of indigenous milkweeds in my area of zone 5...guessing it depends on where you live whether or not what species is indigenous to you or not. Asclepias verticillata (whorled milkweed), Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed), Asclepias hirtella (green milkweed), Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed), Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed) to name a few that are indigenous to my area. Contact the extension office in your area for a list of indigenous plants, or sometimes doing a search with your state + native plants.
O.k. back to lurking âº

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 1:22PM
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terryr(z5a IL)

alt 1 worked as a smiley for the preview, but not on the thread? Odd! :-)

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 1:26PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

You did not say where you live so that makes it tougher to make hostplant suggestions.

I do suggest you go to the website I have linked below. There you will be able to find a list of butterflies that have been verified to exist in your county. Once you have that list, you can use the hostplant FAQ on Garden Web to figure out what hostplants will work for the butterflies in your area that you want to attract.


Here is a link that might be useful: Regional Species Checklists

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 10:31AM
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juntawillow(5 - Chicagoland Area)

Thanks so much for the responses everyone (and all of the suggestions!). I am in Zone 5 - Will County, Illinois. I don't have any particular butterflies in mind that I want to attract... any visiting butterflies will be sure to thrill my 2 & 5 year old!

Thanks again - I'll re-review all of your comments.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 1:20PM
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