Approximately 150 species of butterflies can be found in Illinois. Unfortunately, they are declining in numbers, mainly due to the loss of wetlands and prairies. Planting butterfly gardens will help support their populations and, as a bonus, give us the pleasure of their beauty in our yards.

Plants for caterpillars

When planning a butterfly garden, we always think about the showy flowers that attract the butterflies. But remember that butterflies start out as caterpillars, the butterfly larvae. And caterpillars require specific (generally native) woody plants (trees or shrubs) to feed upon. You won’t get the butterflies if you don’t have the plants necessary for their larvae.

Here are some examples of woody plants needed for specific butterfly larvae. They are all native to the Riverwoods area. Many are very common here and can be easily found throughout the village.

 

Scientific Name

Common Name

Type of Plant

Butterfly Larva

Amelanchier spp

Serviceberry

Large shrubs

Striped Hairstreak

Amorpha canescens

Leadplant

Prairie plant / small shrub

Dog Face

Asimina triloba

Paw Paw

Understory tree

Zebra Swallowtail

Betula spp

Birch

Trees

Compton Tortoiseshell, Mourning Cloak, Tiger Swallowtail

Celtis spp

Hackberry

Tree

Hackberry Butterfly, Snout Butterfly, Question Mark, Mourning Cloak

Cornus spp

Dogwood

Shrubs

Spring/Summer Azure

Crataegus spp

Hawthorn

Understory trees

Hawthorn Striped Hairstreak

Prunus serotina

Black Cherry

Tree

Tiger Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple

Salix spp

Willow

Trees

Striped Hairstreak, Acadian Hairstreak, Viceroy, Compton Tortoiseshell, Mourning Cloak, Red-spotted Purple

Tilia americana

Linden/Basswood

Tree

Question Mark

 

Plants for butterflies

Most flowering plants that attract butterflies require sun. Plant these at the woodland edge, in an open meadow, a prairie or in a sunny garden. The butterflies require sun, too. They warm their flight muscles in the sunlight and will rest on a warm stone or board when they aren’t feeding.

Aside from their beauty, butterflies are excellent pollinators and the larvae are an important part of the food chain. The larvae may munch away at some of your garden plants as well as their host trees, but consider that a good sign…not a problem.

Insecticides will harm the larvae and butterflies, along with whatever other insects you may target, so refrain from using insecticides in your butterfly garden, (if you feel you must use them at all).

Butterflies usually like flowers with a ‘landing pad’ like coneflowers, asters or the clustered flower heads of milkweed or phlox. In general, the butterflies are not as picky about their food as the caterpillars. Large masses of nectar-producing flowers will attract many different species. Here are some suggestions for native plants you can put in your garden, along the edge of the woods or in an open meadow.

Scientific Name

Common Name

Color

Height

Season

Sunlight

Aruncus dioicus

Goat’s Beard

White

3 – 5′

June-July

Pt Sh

Asclepias spp

Milkweed

Pink

1 – 5′

July – Aug

Sun, Pt Sun

Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly Weed

Orange

1 – 2.5′

June-Sept

Sun

Aster novae-angliae

New England Aster

Violet-Purple

3 – 6′

Aug – Oct

Sun, Pt Sun

Echinacea spp

Coneflowers

White, Purple

2 – 4′

June-Sept

Sun, Pt Sun

Eupatorium perfoliatum

Boneset

White

2 – 4′

July-Aug

Sun

Eupatorium maculatum or purpureum

Joe Pye Weed

Lavender

2 – 5′

Aug-Sept

Sun (mac.), Pt Sh (purp.)

Liatris spp

Blazing Star

Rose/Purple

18 – 48″

Aug-Oct

Sun

Monarda fistulosa

Beebalm / Bergamot

Lavender

2 – 4′

July – Sept

Sun

Phlox spp

Phlox

Pink

2 – 4′

July – Sept

Sun

Rudbeckia hirta

Black-eyed Susan

Yellow

1 – 2′

July

Sun, Pt Sh

Solidago spp

Goldenrod

Yellow

2 – 7′

Aug-Oct

Sun, Pt Sh

Veronia

Ironweed

Magenta

3 – 6′

Aug-Oct

Pt Sun