God’s creation is awesome. From the simplest form of bacterial life (which is more complex than we can imagine), to massive beasts that roam an African Savannah, life is a wondrous thing. Who hasn’t marveled at the sight of a hummingbird or Monarch butterfly? Sadly, there has been more than a 99% decline in the Monarch species over the past several decades. Other butterflies, as well as moths, have also suffered a substantial decrease in population. By incorporating butterfly host plants into your landscape, you can help prevent extinction!
Butterfly host plants are specific plants where butterflies and moths lay their eggs. It is further evidence of God’s awesomeness that these winged creatures know which plants the caterpillars that develop from their eggs can eat! Hence, they only lay their eggs on plants where the larva and caterpillars will have an ample food supply!
Understanding the difference between butterfly host plants and nectar plants
As mentioned in the first part of this post, butterfly host plants are specific plants that are edible to caterpillars. This is why butterflies (and moths) choose them as a location to lay their eggs. Once caterpillars hatch into moths or butterflies, however, they’ve reached the adult stage of their life cycle. Therefore, they need a different type of food, or more specifically — drink, which is nectar. In some cases, a single plant will serve both purposes.
Some butterfly host plants are associated with a specific species
There are more than 500 species of butterflies throughout the United States. Certain species, such as the Pipevine Swallowtail, will only lay eggs on specific butterfly host plants. In other words, instead of laying eggs on any plant that is edible to caterpillars, some butterflies will only lay eggs on one type of plant.
Create a butterfly haven in your backyard
When you think of butterfly host plants, don’t limit your imagination to small plants the size of garden flowers. In fact, one of the best things you can plant in your yard to hold butterfly eggs is a tree! Trees are host plants, especially oak trees, willows and elms. Oak trees, in particular, are an excellent choice because many types of butterflies will lay eggs on them.
The bright orange milkweed is a butterfly host plant
If you’re into foraging or studying natural remedies for illnesses and infections, you might be familiar with orange milkweed. It’s an edible plant but ONLY if you know how to prepare it in a way that removes its toxins. It is said that the early Settlers learned how to cook milkweed from Native Americans. It’s reportedly also a natural remedy for warts by drizzling its milky, liquid substance onto the area that’s affected.
Milkweed is a butterfly host plant for the Monarch species. Monarch caterpillars ONLY eat milkweed. It would be interesting to research whether there has been a decline in milkweed growth throughout the country. Since the Monarch population is nearing extinction, perhaps, it’s due to lack of the specific food source they need. (I have no scientific background in this area. I’m merely making a logical assumption.)
If you want to help save Monarch butterflies from extinction, plant several rows of milkweed in your yard. If you plan to eat or use milkweed medicinally, make sure you know what you’re doing first! Always research safety guidelines before foraging or making home remedies.
Geographical location matters when choosing which plants to grow
If you live in Texas or on the West Coast, you might choose butterfly host plants that are different from those that thrive in eastern states or up north. You can call your community extension service to ask about butterfly host plants in your regions. Some of the more common ones include goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace, fennel, dill and parsley. Additional options in many locations include flowering trees, such as cherry or plum, as well sunflowers, prickly pears and evening primrose.
Make it a point to learn about butterfly host plants and try to add some to your yard. If we all do our part, we can help save God’s beautiful creatures from extinction!