Thursday, August 12, 2010

Host Plant Lists

As posted in a topic over at the Wildlife Gardener's Forum I fell it's worth posting this here. Two things happened all at once. Basically over the past week I realized that the host plants for some Brushfoot Butterflies (Fritillary, Red Admiral, American and Painted Lady etc...) over lap and make a fairly good garden idea. What started as a New England Aster with Pussytoe growing as a ground cover around it turned into a full on list and Brushfoot Butterfly Garden.

Basically I went through the pages "Caterpillars of Eastern North America" and wrote down all the host plants to various groups of butterflies. For some groups it works better than others though. Ones like Mourning Cloak and the Tiger Swallowtail almost whore themselves to the forest. Generally if you have any native hardwood tree in your yard, particularly: Oak, Maple, Willow, Wild Cherry/Native Plum, or Apple you have a host plant that they'll use. The issue though is Mourning Cloaks prefer a full shade forest setting and Tiger Swallowtails are more open forest edge flying.

The second thing that happened was a topic on Bluestone Perennials. Not to pick on them in particular but if you go to their site and click on "Plants that Attract Butterflies" you'll find that just about every flowering plant known to man attracts butterflies. Yes that's right, apparently fine choices like the Pasque flower, which is basically a native Crocus is a great choice for a butterfly plant. Sure it flowers just as the snow melts off the darn thing but the butterflies just can't resist.

Basically the garden industries idea of Butterfly Plants is another way of saying Pollinator Plants. I'm not going to say the Pasque flower doesn't get butterflies on it but frankly anything in the adult stage when the Pasque flower blooms will more than likely be interested in an Azalia or Native Honeysuckle which bloom way heavier for that time of year. Just looking at all the anthers in the Pasque flower tells me it's intended for bees. Butterfly flowers tend to grow in either mats or have reasonably tube or small trumpet shaped flowers, such as mint.

But it can't all be about nectar. So often so called "Butterfly Gardens" engage in the absolute most frilly nectar plants around. A good test to judge what kind of butterfly gardener someone is, is showing them the life cycle of the Tiger Swallowtail. First show them the adult stage. Next show them the caterpillar stage, with emphases on the 1st, 2ed, and 3ed instar when the caterpillar mimics a clump of bird shit best. A true butterfly gardener will appreciate how a clump of bird shit turns into such a majestic looking winged insect. Everyone else is just a poser.

Host Plants For Brushfoots (Fritillary, Red Admirals, American and Painted Ladies etc...)
Hops (vine)
Passion-flower (vine)
May Apple
Turtle Head (white flowering I hear is best)
False Foxglove (yellow flowering I hear is best)
And having a Hackberry tree around helps as it's host to two species. 
Besides the Hackberry all of these are perennials easily planted together in any garden.

Host Plants For Whites and Sulphurs
Brassicaceas (surprisingly I read this includes ornamental cabbage.)
Wild Senna
Indigo Bush
Lead Plant
Prairie Clover
Lupin and other Legumes
Cassias? which I think only grows in Florida.
Again all good plants for the garden. Though many people don't like having Whites because they eat cabbage and related plants, I think the Sulphurs are a missed jewel of the garden.

Host Plants For Swallowtails
Pipe Vine (vine)
Carrot Family (Golden Alexander, Parsley, Carrots etc...)
Spice Bush/Sassafras
Paw Paw, (and other Custard Apple Family?)
Native Magnolia, Tulip Tree, Wild Cherry, Apple ect...
Alright Swallowtails are the big boys in the butterfly garden, and it stands to reason most of their host plants are woody perennials and trees.

I could have gone farther with Hummingbird Moths, and Giant Silk Moths and so on but these are most of the pretty ones.