top of page


LARVAL HOST PLANTS: COVER CROPS: Native plant species are a great addition to the garden because they are already adapted to the local landscape. Native plants can improve the water quality of the community and its aquatic life. Cover crops are one way to provide habitat for pollinators. Plants in the legume family provide a source of pollen and nectar, but they only bloom for a short time.

Native cover crop larval host plants to grow in West Tennessee:

• Alfalfa (Medicago sativa): yellow alfalfas.

• Clover (Trifolium repens): clouded yellows and common blues.

• Sweet Clover (Melilotus officinalis): blues and sulphurs.

• Mustard (Brassica nigra): orange tips and small whites.

• Vetch (Vicia sativa): skippers and funereal dusky wings.

LARVAL HOST PLANTS: HERBS: many herbs are useful plants for the larvae of butterflies and moths. Butterfly larvae like dill, fennel and parsley. Not only are herbs great plants for butterfly larvae, they are a favorite of bees and other pollinators as well. Chives are a bee magnet in the garden, and borage, lavender, mint, thyme, basil, and lemon balm are also favorites.

Native herb larval host plants to grow in West Tennessee:

• Anise (Pimpinella anisum): anise and black swallowtail.

• Dill (Anethum graveolens): black swallowtail.

• Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): black swallowtail.

• Mint (Mentha piperita): orange sulphur.

• Parsley (Petroselinum crispum): black swallowtail.

LARVAL HOST PLANTS: PERENNIALS: a wide variety of perennials provide for the entire life cycle of beneficial pollinators. Goldenrod and asters feed over 100 different species of butterfly. Geraniums, yarrow, and black-eyed Susan are also favorites.

Native perennial larval host plants to grow in Tennessee:

• Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve): checkerspots & crescents.

• Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa): monarchs.

• Hollyhock (Alcea rosea): painted ladies.

• Mallow (Malva sylvestris): gray hairstreak.

• Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea): painted ladies.

• Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpura): silvery checkerspot.

• Turtlehead (Chelone oblique): Baltimore checkerspot.

• Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis): wild indigo dusky wing.

LARVAL HOST PLANTS: SHRUBS: native shrubs and bushes not only enhance the landscape, but are also host plants for butterflies to lay their eggs on. And since butterfly shrubs come in many shapes and heights, they can fit in any number of locations and situations including front beds, windbreaks, or privacy hedges. Larval host shrubs are multi-Purpose. They attract butterflies by providing food for their caterpillars, and they can also attract a variety of wildlife to the outdoor living space by providing protection, shelter, and nectar.

Native shrubs to grow in West Tennessee include:

• American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana): spring azures.

• Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum): azures.

• Red Chokecherry (Aronia arbutifolia): hairstreaks & sphinx.

• Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifoia): birds.

• Ninebark (Physocarp opulifolius): ninebark beetles.

• Spicebush (Lindera bezoin): spicebush swallowtails.

• Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica): red-banded hairstreaks.

• Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica): azures & dusky wings.

LARVAL HOST PLANTS: TREES: are a natural part of the local ecosystem, and contribute to local energy flows and nutrient cycles. Trees are some of the most prolific larval host plants, and the oak is capable of supporting over 500 species of butterfly and moth. Trees enhance the garden and yard by providing shade and beauty, protection, shelter, and food for butterflies and other wildlife.

Native trees to grow in West Tennessee include:

• Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana): gossamer winged.

• Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum): rosy maple moth.

• White Oak (Quercus alba): banded hairstreaks.

• Pawpaw (Asimina tribloba): zebra swallowtails.

• Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus): elfins & hairstreaks.

• Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis): elfins.

• Sassafras (Sassafras albidum): spicebush swallowtails.

• Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea): red-spotted purples.

LARVAL HOST PLANTS: VINES: some butterflies use vines or climbing plants as host plants to lay their eggs on and to provide food for their larvae. Vines can add a new dimension to the butterfly garden as they scramble up a trellis or the side of a shed.

Native vine larval host plants to grow in Tennessee:

• Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum): grays & white admirals.

• Hops (Humulus lupus): Eastern commas.

• Moonflower (Ipomoea alba): black swallowtails.

• Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata): gulf fritillaries.

• Pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla): pipevine swallowtails.

LARVAL HOST PLANTS: WEEDS: host plants are the plants where butterflies and moths lay their eggs. They’re important because those plants are what a new caterpillar will start to eat after it has hatched, and after it has consumed its egg shell. A female butterfly will lay her eggs in clusters or as single eggs, depending on the species. The eggs are often found underneath a leaf or along a plant stem. Common weeds such as nettles and thistle are favorites.

Native weed larval host plants to grow in Tennessee:

• Nettle (Urtica dioica): red admirals, peacocks, & tortoise shells.

• Plantain (Plantago major): buckeyes.

• Thistle (Silybum marianum): mylitta crescents.

• Violet (Viola sororia): great spangled fritillaries.

Butterfly species that are found in West Tennessee include:

Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton): Caterpillar Hosts: eggs are laid and caterpillars feed before hibernating on plants such as turtlehead (Chelone glabra), hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus), English plantain (Plantago lanceolata), and false foxglove (Agalinis paupercula). After overwintering, caterpillars may continue to use these plants, but may also wander and feed on unrelated plants including arrowwood (Viburnum recognitum), common lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis), Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), and white ash (Fraxinus americana).

Adult Food: nectar from flowers of milkweed, viburnum, and wild rose.

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes): Caterpillar Hosts: leaves of plants in the parsley family including Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus Carota), celery (Apium graveolens), and dill (Anethum graveolens). Sometimes plants in the citrus family are preferred.

Adult Food: nectar from flowers including red clover, milkweed, and thistle.

Cloudless Sulphur: (Phoebis sennae): Caterpillar Hosts: species in the pea family.

Adult Food: nectar from many different flowers with long tubes including Cordia, bougainvillea, cardinal flower, hibiscus, lantana, and wild morning glory.

Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma): Caterpillar Hosts: all members of the elm and nettle families including American elm (Ulmus americana), hops (Humulus lupulus), nettle (Urtica dioica), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), and wood nettle (Laportea canadensis).

Adult Food: rotting fruit and tree sap.