How to Attract Baby ButterfliesSouthern Gables Neighborhood Association


By Kristen De Lay

I know, I know baby butterflies are really just caterpillars. However, isn’t it cuter to say baby butterflies? When many of us think of a butterfly, we think of how beautiful they are floating through the air, jumping from flower to flower. However, when we think of a caterpillar, we might think “Ew!” or wonder if it is invasive, or worse, we spray some kind of pesticide to get rid of them. However, many caterpillars are vital to our environment and need to have food, proper shelter and even water sources to turn into the beautiful adults that we all love to watch. 

If we only plant food sources for adult butterflies, we’ll quickly see a decline in our butterfly populations. In this article, I’ll share the types of things you can plant to attract more baby butterflies (i.e. caterpillars). 

I’ve recently read a book that I highly recommend to my neighbors. In “Nature’s Best Hope”, Douglas Tallamy explains how homeowners everywhere can turn their yards into conservation corridors that provide wildlife habitats. Something that really stood out to me is the nutritional value behind caterpillars (both moth and butterfly caterpillars) for our birds. I see many of us adding seed and nuts to our bird feeders, which adult birds definitely appreciate, but caterpillars are what birds feed to their babies. Making this connection on how supporting these caterpillars, in turn supports our bird populations, was a big lightbulb moment for me. I don’t know about you, but bird watching has been my absolute favorite pandemic activity, and I invite you to join me in supporting their habitat in our neighborhood. 

One last thing before I go into host plants, please also consider leaving your leaves in the winter. If you can’t stand the thought of leaving them on your grass, then think about leaving the ones laying in your flower beds. Not only will that insulate your plants over the winter, but many bugs lay their eggs in leaf litter or caterpillars move into the pupae stage in that shelter. When we rake or blow them away, we are actually destroying many baby bugs that we need in our environment. Many of these eat mosquitos and aphids or are vital food sources for birds.

Our old suburban lawn

The information below came from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). You can reference the source by visiting this page on native butterflies. These are specific to our area. I am a huge advocate of the NWF and see my yard as a way to support the environment. We try very hard to utilize plants that flower from February to November. I use very little water (my bill is usually around $50 each month in the summer) and I don’t mow, at all.

A safe haven for beautiful butterflies

This look isn’t for everyone, but I’d love it if you’d join me in replacing a few of your plants with native plants. If you have any questions or want references, I can talk to you all day about it. I try to keep my plant nerdiness at bay, but I’m here if you ever want to chat!

Host Plants and the butterflies they support (Note: This is a two-column table. If you are viewing on a phone, turn the screen sideways to see the host plants next to the butterflies they attract.)

Butterfly Host Plants
Spring Azur

Photo credit: inaturalist.org
Red Twig Dogwood
Redtwig dogwood
Northern Checkerspot

Photo credit: https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/
Aspen Fleabane, Rubber Rabbitbrush
Fleabane photo credit: inaturalist.org, Rabbitbrush Photo Credit: High Country Gardens
Variable Checkerspot

Photo credit: inaturalist.org
Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus)

Photo credit: High Country Gardens
Grey Hairstreak butterfly
Photo source: Butterflyidentification.com
Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe involucrata)

Photo Credit: High Country Gardens
Southern Dogface Butterfly

Photo credit: inaturalist.org
White Prairie Clover (Dalea candida)

Photo credit: American Southwest
Columbine Duskywing

Photo source: butterfliesandmoths.org
Colorado Blue Or Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea)
Monarch

Photo from National Wildlife Federation
Showy Milkweed, Butterflyweed
Photo credit: High Country Gardens
Silvery Checkerspot
Maximillian Sunflower (perennial sunflower)

Photo Credit: Spring Hill Nursery
Skippers – There are a bunch of these, too many to show all the pictures!
Here’s more info.
Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Blue Grama
Photo Credit: High Country Garden
Rocky Mountain Parnassian
Sedum – ONLY sedum. Our native variety is Sedum lanceolatum

Photo credit: SW Colorado Wildflowers
Giant Swallowtail
Hop Tree, Gasplant

Hoptree (Wikipedia)
Pale Beauty, Fringed Looper

Willows, aspen, cottonwood, poplar, black chokecherry, Pin Cherry, Gamble Oak, Ponderosa Pine

Photo Credit: The Tree farm (Ponderosa pine)
Coral Hairstreak
Black chokecherry, Pin Cherry,

Photo Credit Echter’s Nursery (Chokecherry)
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Saskatoon serviceberry, Utah serviceberry, Gambel Oak, cerro hawthorn (Crataegus erythropoda), fleshy hawthorn (Crataegus succulenta), willows, poplars, aspen and cottonwood
Eastern Tailed Blue
Ponderosa Pine, Milkvetch, vetch and lupine

Photo Credit from SW Colorado Wildflowers
Columbian Emerald Moth
Gambel Oak, Willows, Rock Spirea,

Photo Credit: Colorado Springs Utilities
American Painted Lady
Artemisia frigida and ludoviciana, pussytoes (great groundcover!)

Artemisia Frigida – Photo credit by Santa Fe Botanical Gardens

These are just a sampling of plants that adult butterflies look for to lay their eggs. Some are easier to find than others at our local plant nurseries. They are not sold at the big box stores, though you might find one here or there, but it is really rare. If you don’t see them, definitely ask the staff to stock more native species of plants. The more available they are, the more we can all make a bigger impact in supporting our local pollinators. 


– Kristen De Lay is an avid gardener with a special interest in native plants and creating wildlife habitats. She is a member and volunteer for the Colorado Native Plant Society and also participates in our Sustainable Southern Gables group. She and her family have lived in Southern Gables since 2016.

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