Butterflies raising their young

Pussytoes ©Janet Allen
Little American Lady caterpillars are inside these tents they made

Host plants are essential for butterflies. What's a host plant? The plant butterflies eat in the caterpillar stage. Here are some of them for butterflies in our area.

Yes, they eat the leaves, so if you provide food for butterflies to raise their young, expect some leaves in less than perfect condition. This is a deal-breaker for some people. (I obviously don't understand that point of view.) But this has gone on for millenia, so a few ragged leaves don't kill the plants.

You can see the different stages of some butterflies we raise: monarchs, black swallowtails, and American ladies.

Milkweed for monarchs ©Janet AllenMilkweed for monarchs

Compared to humans raising their young, butterflies have a much simpler job. They simply find the kind of plant their future offspring will be able to eat, lay eggs, then go on their merry way.

Yes, it's much simpler than raising a human child, but it's becoming increasingly difficult for butterflies to find that appropriate plant to lay their eggs on.

Not just any plant will do, and what is suitable is different for each species of butterfly. For monarchs, for example, it's milkweed.

Pipevine ©Janet Allen
Sadly, our pipevine leaves are still uneaten, but we did see our first pipevine swallowtail (uncommon in our area) in 2014.

Along the way, we've changed how we think about leaf damage. Not everyone has. For example, as I was researching pipevine, I came across one website that warned:

Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia durior): Subject to damage from the pipevine swallowtail butterfly, which feeds on and defoliates the plant.

This is obviously a "problem" we'd love to have! Even though we love plants, It's hard to understand why people would prefer a perfect plant to a beautiful butterfly.

(And it also strikes us as unethical to believe that plants are here merely for the pleasure of humans …)

Tiger swallowtail ©Janet Allen
This tiger swallowtail enjoys the joe-pye nectar, but its caterpillars need trees such as black cherry to eat

What surprised us the most is the number of trees and shrubs that are host plants for various butterflies and moths.

We're so used to thinking of butterflies needing flowers that we overlook their need for trees, such as oaks, which are hosts to a myriad of lepidoptera (butterflies, moths, and the like.)

We provide a lot of milkweed for monarchs, but we're also trying to provide as many host plants for as many other butterflies (that live in our region) as possible.