Planting for Caterpillars
When first installing landscaping around my house, I was determined to plant only flora that were native to our area. However, there isn’t much that blooms for any length of time so I also planted Lantana for color. It didn’t take long before I started seeing Butterflies visiting and feeding on the flowers and in no time I developed a passion for photographing Butterflies! I wanted to find more!
Someone suggested I check out a local butterfly group (cazba). When I did, I was excited to see their list of great looking outings. What better way to find butterflies than to tag along with people who know how to find them. Duh! I joined their group, of course.
By the end of that first outing (2009), I became enlightened to the secret to finding butterflies. You simply go to places where butterflies lay their eggs. The most interesting thing I learned that day, though, was how specific each species of Butterfly is as to where they lay their eggs!
SO in summary…if we want lots of butterflies in our gardens, not only do we need to provide flowers to feed the adults (nectar) but if we want them to stay and continue to come back year after year, we must learn which plants their caterpillars require. These are called Larval plants.
After researching which butterflies would most likely visit my yard, I took inventory of my plants and was happy to learn I already had many native Larval plants/shrubs and trees on my property. They are: Mesquite, Cat Claw Acacia and Palo Verde (for a variety of Blues, Hairstreaks and Duskywings), Desert Hackberry (for Empress Leilia and American Snout), Buckwheats (for Blues and Metalmark), Desert Senna (for Sleepy Orange), Mallows (for Skippers) White Ratany (for Mormon Metalmark) and more.
So far, I have found caterpillars on only one of the existing hosts (Desert Senna) but I’m sure I will find more eventually!
Next I started adding more Larval plants to my yard. I put in: Milkweed– Asclepias subulata, angustifolia, fascicularis, linaria (for Queens and Monarchs), Dutchman’s Pipe – Aristolochia watsonii and fimbriata (for Pipevine Swallowtail), Native Muhly grasses (for Skippers) and Saltbush (for Western Pygmy Blue).
To be added: Dyssodia (Dainty Sulphur). Chapparel Beardtongue (Variable Checkerspot) and Datura (for Sphinx moth)
I have documented two species of caterpillars so far…..
CLICK HERE for a video of a Queen caterpillar becoming a Chrysalis
CLICK HERE for a video of a Chrysalis becoming a Butterfly (Eclosing)
One butterfly I’m most hopeful to see soon is the Pipevine Swallowtail.
These beauties come through my yard regularly so they are bound to see my plants soon….maybe this fall! Their host plant is Dutchman’s Pipe which is a very cool plant. A successful butterfly gardener friend of mine suggested I also plant the non-native variety because of the larger leaves which I did recently. This species (Aristolochia fimbriata) has an incredible flower! See photo below and also a photo of our native Aristolochia watsonii.
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There are only two plants there whose names are familiar to me – mallow and datura! Of course your native plants as well as your butterflies are quite exotic to me. I haven’t found a single caterpillar yet but it’s early days and spring has been so cool. Good luck and I am sure you will have lots more cats and butterflies in your garden soon! P.S. Love the Aristolochia fimbriata!
Thanks for your comment, Mandy! I love this plant too! Like you, I really enjoy seeing flora from around the world. We have so many in common. Truth be told, I didn’t start looking for cats on the native stuff in my yard until last year. I have no doubt they are there but they are SO TINY it’s no wonder no one sees them. My next opportunity to stalk our tiny blues so I can see where they lay their eggs will be this fall and I will definitely be searching 🙂