Butterfly Host and Nectar Plants
Since we’re talking butterflies, there are two terms you need to know:
Host Plant: The plant on which the eggs are laid and on which the caterpillars feed.
Nectar Plant: The primary plants on which the adult butterflies feed on.
Each butterfly species depends on particular plants called host plants to feed and nourish its
Female butterflies seek out these plants for egg-laying.
Plants contain a variety of noxious chemicals that protect them from herbivores
— different plants have different chemicals.
Butterflies have adapted to some of these chemicals and are able to detoxify them.
to detoxify is limited, so Monarchs, whose caterpillars eat plants from the Milkweed family, but
cannot eat parsley, a member of the Carrot family. Some butterfly species are host plant
generalists and are able to utilize plants from a wide variety of families for their larval food.
Others are strictly specialists--so highly adapted to one plant species that they can eat it and
Knowledge of host plant choice is important in determining where to find particular butterfly
species or to attract them to your garden. It is crucial to understanding how to conserve and
protect them. The plants included in this list have all been documented as host plants in
Most adult butterflies feed on nectar from flowers. When seeking food, butterflies evaluate
shape, color, fragrance, and taste. Their choices are often determined by proboscis (feeding
tube) length: butterflies with long proboscises can access nectar from deep throated flowers;
those with shorter ones must feed from shorter tubed plants.
The nectar plants included in this list are native or naturalized plants found in Wisconsin
that are used by butterflies in Wisconsin as nectar sources. Most appeal to many butterflies.
Some are associated with a particular species and are cited within that species account on
Butterfly Host and Nectar Plants
For Selected Butterflies
||Turtlehead, Plaintain, Snapdragon
|Eastern Black Swallowtail
||Dill, Fennel, Queen Anne's Lace
||False Nettle, Elm Tree
||Vetch, Clover, Wild Pea, Alfafa
||Milkweed, Coreopsis, Aster, Dogbane
|Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
||Cherry, Birch, Ash, Cottonwood, Willow
||Bee Balm, Butterfly Bush, Honeysuckle, Sunflower
||Prickly Ash, Hoptree, Rue
||Butterfly Bush, Coneflower, Sunflower
|Great Spangled Fritillary
||Common Blue Violet
||Coneflower, Milkweed, Butterfly Bush
||Lantana, Butterfly Bush, Thistle, Verbena, Zinnia
||Passion Vine, Passion Flower
||Tree sap (mostly oak), rotting fruits
||Pearly Everlasting, Field Thistle, Hollyhocks
||Coneflower, Tall Verbena
||Heartleaf Aster, Wavy Leaf Aster
||Milkweed, Butterfly Bush
||False Nettle, Winged Elm, American Elm, Common Hops
||Tree sap, Rotting Fruit, Carrian
||Milkweed, Clover, Alfalfa
||Cottonwood, Poplar, Cherry
||Milkweed, Butterfly Bush, Rotten Fruit
||Black Locust, False Indigo, Wisteria
||Black-eyed Susan, Sunflowers, Wingstem
||Butterfly Bush, Coneflower, Sunflower, Joe Pye Weed
||Dogwood, Wingstem, New Jersey Tea
||Buckeye, Violet, Winter Cress
||Cottonwood, Poplar, Willow
||Milkweed, Butterfly Bush, Coneflower
||Milkweed, Cosmos, Joe Pye Weed
This is what you need to take away from this. If we want to keep butterflies around
us, we need to decide which ones we want and plant what they need. You may not
always get them the first season or the second but eventually they will make it to
Butterflies and Moths of North America
Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Assn (NABA)
The Butterfly Site