Category Archives: Host Plant

Rue – Nectar and Host Plant Together

rue-01 rue-Painted-Lady-nec02

Rue, Ruta graveolens, is an almost perfect nectar and host plant for the butterfly garden. It’s pretty, attracts butterflies with its yellow flowers and is a host plant for black swallowtails and occasionally giant swallowtail butterflies. It also will usually come back every year and reseeds freely.

It only has one flaw – it can cause a rash. I’ve never gotten the rash, but because of that potential problem I don’t recommend it for schools. I almost always wear gloves so that may have protected me somewhat. It even got a mention on an old Doc Martin episode, so the problem is real.

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New England Aster – First Place in September


In mid-September, New England Aster is a prize winner with butterflies. I have about ten plants and they are all covered with numerous butterflies.

I have two different versions – one is the common native and the other is a new version called Purple Dome. The butterflies don’t seem to prefer one over the other. Purple Dome has a slightly larger yellow center.

The trick to master with this native is to cut it back in the spring at least once and maybe twice or more. This plant can get tallish and have a tendency to flop over in a well fertilized and watered garden setting. I’ve been told by the gardeners at the Missouri Botanical Garden to stop the cutting by July 4th. The pictures above were just taken this afternoon.


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Partridge Pea in the Butterfly Garden


One plant that I rarely see in a “formal” garden is Partridge Pea. It’s scientific name is Chamaecrista fasciculata. Even the Missouri Botanical Garden doesn’t seem to grow this plant, which is a shame.

In St. Louis, the Cloudless Sulphur seems to favor this native host plant. Other butterflies like the orange sulphur and the sleepy orange may also use it as a host plant.

The variety I uses grows to about four feet tall since it’s in competition with some other aggressive growers like verbena bonareinsis.  It’s an annual which will easily re-seed itself every year so make sure you put it in a location that can take all the new seedlings. In mid-August it’s an appreciated splash of yellow color when it’s in between the early blooming flowers and the fall bloomers.

I’ve got it in a sunny location and it does well there.

I recently counted twenty-two eggs in one section of the garden. They start out white and then turn yellow.

Below is a picture of a Cloudless Sulphur nectaring on Salvia- Lady in Red – one of their favorites.



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American Ladies on Pearly Everlasting


If there’s one plant that I’m always guaranteed to have larvae on every year, it’s Pearly Everlasting. I’ve already raised one generation of American Ladies on this plant and now I’ve got even more larvae. I’m hoping that all those spikes on the caterpillar will keep away all the wasps that seem to be in the garden.

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Host Plants for St. Louis Butterflies

In the St. Louis area I have approximately 40 different butterflies in my city-scape. There are closer to a hundred species if you’re willing to drive out into the country, but in my area, I’m limited to around forty. Here are the butterflies which come to my yard and the host plants I grow for them.

  • American Lady – Pearly Everlasting, Pussy Toes, Hollyhock
  • American Snout – Hackberry
  • Black Swallowtail – Bronze fennel, Parlsey, Dill, Rue
  • Bronze Copper – Rumex
  • Buckeye – Veronica and Penstemon
  • Cabbage White – Kale – Hesperis matronalis – Cleome
  • Checkered White – Kale – Hesperis matronalis – Cleome
  • Clearwing Moth – Amsonia illustris Shining Blue Star – Lonicera sempervirens.
  • Clouded Sulphur – Wild Senna,
  • Cloudless Sulphur – Partridge Pea
  • Comma – Hops, Hackberry, False Nettle
  • Eastern Tailed Blue – Clover
  • Giant Swallowtail – Ptelea trifoliata Hop-Tree, Wafer Ash – Rue
  • Gray Hairstreak – Hibiscus lasiocarpos, Rose Mallow
  • Great Spangled Fritillary – Violets
  • Hackberry – Hackberry tree
  • Little Yellow – Wild Senna
  • Monarch – Asclepias incarnata, asclepias tuberosa, ascepias curassavica.
  • Orange Sulphur –  Wild Senna
  • Painted Lady – Pearly Everlasting, Pussy Toes, Hollyhock.
  • Pearl Crescent – New England Aster
  • Pipevine – Pipevine (I grown this in a large pot.)
  • Question Mark – Hops, hackberry
  • Red Admiral – False Nettle
  • Red Spotted Purple – Willow
  • Silvery Checkerspot – Rudbeckia fulgida
  • Skippers (Dun – Fiery – Least – Pecks – Sachem – ) – Bermuda grass.
  • Silver-Spotted Skipper – Black Locust.
  • Sleepy Orange – Wild Senna
  • Spicebush – Spicebush.
  • Spring/Summer Azure – buds of Pee Gee Hydrangea, Salvia
  • Tiger Swallowtail – Tulip tree and Sweet Bay Magnolia
  • Variegated Fritillary – Violets
  • Viceroy – Willow.
  • Wild Indigo Dusky Wing– Baptisia – Twilight Prairie Blues H
  • Zebra Swallowtail – Paw Paw

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Host Plant + Nectar Plant = HosNec


Many times, after a two hour butterfly gardening presentation, four exhibits and 196 slides, the final question most often asked is, “What one plant should I buy that will get me started.” The answer I always give is Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa.

It’s a hardy perennial which is not only a host plant for the monarch caterpillar, but is also a good nectar plant for many other butterflies. It’s two-two-two plants in one.

For the small garden, using this type of plant which I have dubbed, HosNec, is ideal.

For butterfly neophytes, I should explain that each type of butterfly has a “preferred” plant on which it will lay its eggs. Monarchs lay their eggs on types of milkweed. The Pipevine butterfly lays its eggs on Pipevine. These plants are called host plants as they provide nutrition for a growing caterpillar, also called a larva. If the butterfly lays its egg on the wrong plant, the caterpillar will likely starve to death.

Nectar plants would seem to be easy to find. Almost every hardware, grocery and nursery is filled with blooming plants in the spring. Butterflies however, are picky feeders and definitely prefer certain flowers.

You can now start to see that trying to find a “HosNec,” combination host and nectar plant, starts to become a challenge for any gardener.

Here is my list of Missouri native HosNecs to jump-start your garden this year.
Butterfly Weed
Asclepias tuberosa
Host – Monarchs

It’s number one on my list because it takes zero maintenance and is a nice medium size. Note – it will take about three years before it grows to a decent size, so you might want to spend a little more and buy a good size plant when you start. You can start it from seed if money is tight.

Swamp Milkweed
Asclepias incarnata
Host – Monarchs

Another nice perennial in the garden with a pretty flower. You can cover it with a plastic container in the spring to encourage it to send up shoots for early migrating monarch butterflies.

Milkweeds – Annual
Asclepias curassavica
Host – Monarchs

There are many other milkweed varieties which will accomplish the same thing as the two above, but finding them is a problem. I don’t usually recommend Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, for the home garden – it tends to become invasive. In a natural setting however, it will be fine. The annual milkweed is a great plant if you can find the seeds or plants.

Eastern Redbud
Cercis canadensis
Host for Henry’s Elfin.

It’s also a great nectar plant for butterflies in the forest where there aren’t too many other nectar sources.

Purple Prairie clover
Dalea purpurea
Host – Dog Face butterfly

I have found that this a difficult plant to grow. It probably prefers neglect and poor soil conditions – just the opposite of what I usually provide.


Western Sunflower
Helianthus occidentalis
Host – Silvery and Gorgone Checkerspot


Vernonia fasciculata
Host – American Lady

This host listing is a bit questionable, but I have seen it listed in some places. It gets over six feet tall, so it will probably need staking.


New England Aster
Aster novae-angliae
Host – Pearl Crescent and Silvery Checkerspot

An easy hardy perennial for any garden. It flowers in the fall and is usually covered with butterflies in September. You can propagate it by division or just dig up the new seedlings each spring.
New Jersey Tea
Ceanothus americanus
Host – Mottled Dusky Wing

Has a small blossom visited by some butterflies.

Hydrangea arborescens
Wild Hydrangea
Host – Spring Azure

A good nectar plant and the Spring Azure also uses the unopened flower bud as a host.


Rudbeckia – many varieties
Host – Gorgone Checkerspot & Silvery Checkerspot

There are many beautiful varieties of this species, although I have never found a larva on this plant.
Lindera benzoin
Host – Spicebush butterfly

The spice bush has a pretty yellow blossom in early spring which butterlies will visit. It also makes a nice residential bush instead of the traditional Yew. The larva is truly magnificent and easy to spot on Spicebush as they fold up the leaves to hide inside.



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Hollyhocks – Host Plant – Painted/American Lady Butterfly

I have read many places that hollyhocks were host plants for painted/american ladies, but only recently have I seen evidence of this. This combined pictured is taken in Door County, Wisconsin.

I do have other smaller versions of this in the garden, but not the full size hollyhock. I will definitely give this a try next year.

Note – I also have Pearly Everlasting and Pussy Toe, which are also host plants and may be more desired by the Lady butterfles in this area.

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False Nettle – Host for Red Admirals and Commas

False Nette, Bohermia cylyndrica, is a nice host plant which seems to prefer shade over sun. I have had may Red Admirals use this as a host plant, but today I saw my first Eastern Comma lay eggs on this plant. They will also lay eggs on Hop vine and Hackberry, so I wonder why they prefer the false nettle today.

Notice how the eggs are laid one on top of the other – very unusual.

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Vanilla Strawberry Hydrangea

I bought this Hydrangea paniculata ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ today at a local nursery. The nursery had ten available plants, but only one with a branch which was fairly straight. That’s the challenge you may also find if you’re looking to try this variety out and put it into a tree form. I couldn’t find any available online, so I decided to form it myself.

As the plant grows I’ll add more information on this particular variety and my attempt to change it from a bush to a tree.

If you look at the picture below from Park Seed, you’ll see the colors which I’m hoping to get.

vanilla strawberry

June 21st 2012 – see the picture below for what the flowers actually look like when they first come out.

Supposedly the blossoms will turn color over the weeks to come.
Here’s what the flower looks like as of July 12th.

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Purple Dome New England Aster

I saw this plant at the Missouri Botanical Garden in 2011 and admired its compact shape and great flowering. This was September 28th – a great time for the Monarch migration. I’m going to give it a try this year and found it at these sites.

– American Meadows – $4.26 or six for $3.73 each.

– High Country Gardens – $8.49

– Eden Brothers – $7.50 

-I ended up buying six plants from American Meadows for $30.24(includes shipping)

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