Herbs for Butterflies
Ah, beautiful butterflies!
Besides being pretty, butterflies are fun to watch beneficial insects and good pollinators. Those long tongues allow them to easily pollinate as they drink from long-throated nectar filled flowers.
Unlike many animals, adult butterflies and their caterpillar offspring eat completely different foods in the garden.
This is good for your plants, and good for the butterflies. Since the adult insects and caterpillars aren’t competing for food there is a greater chance more caterpillars will grow to adulthood. It also means your garden will have more adult pollinated flowers and fewer plants demolished by hordes of hungry young caterpillars!
You can see two adult Swallowtail butterflies enjoying these Echinacea (Purple Coneflower) blooms. Echinacea is definitely not the food choice of Swallowtail caterpillars!
Milkweed family members are a food staple for Monarch butterflies.
The adults will visit all sorts of flowers while the caterpillars dine on the milkweed plant. Milkweed family plants contain toxic sap and as a result, both butterfly and caterpillar are toxic. Their bright coloring usually warns away predators, although it’s not always effective!
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a lovely ornamental/medicinal perennial herb plant. It is sometimes known as Butterfly Milkweed or Pleurisy Root and is another food plant for Monarch caterpillars.
Below you can see the Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar on Dill weed.
Members of the umbel family are favorites of the Swallowtail caterpillar and include Parsley, Dill, Fennel, and Queen Ann’s Lace. Midwestern gardeners might find this Butterfly Food Preferences list from Iowa State helpful. I did!
If you have the room to spare, plant a few extra plants for the caterpillars to munch on. You’ll be rewarded by those gorgeous adult butterflies!