Remember: There is nothing to fear from your average caterpillar. And if you want butterflies, there's no avoiding them.
Adult butterflies can get food from a fairly wide variety of plants, but their caterpillars are very choosy about what they'll eat. Each species of butterfly caterpillar has unique food needs. So what types of caterpillar plants to include in your garden depends on what types of butterflies you want to attract. Here are some suggestions courtesy of those wonderful people at the Xerces Society:
- For Swallowtails, try fennel (Foeniculum spp.) and Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota).
- Blue butterflies such as the Spring Azure will be attracted to milk vetch (Astragalus spp.), lupines (Lupinus spp.), clover (Trifolium spp.), and vetch (Vicia spp.)
- The yellow butterflies called Sulphurs will be attracted to clover and vetch.
- Monarch butterflies will be attracted to milkweeds (Asclepias spp.)
- For Painted Ladies, try thistle (Cirsium spp.)
- For Fritillaries, try violets (Viola spp.)
- For Orange Tips, winter cress (Barbarea spp.)
- For Mourning Cloaks, roses (Rosa gymnocarpa)
- Finally, willow (Salix spp.), aspen (Populus spp.), spirea (Spirea spp.), grasses, and sedges will attract many species of butterflies.
You may have noticed that a lot of the above are weeds. Correct! Actually, one of the best ways to provide for butterflies is to let an out-of-the-way corner of your garden get "weedy." The caterpillars will benefit not only because of the food plants you'll be growing there but also because less maintenance means less likelihood that the caterpillars will be injured or killed.