I am looking for host plants for the Painted Lady Butterfly that I can plant in my school's (I am a teacher) native plant/butterfly garden. As part of the curriculum, each Fall our 2nd graders study Painted Lady butterflies from their larva stage and then release them outside. We have an unfinished garden area and I would like to incorporate the host plants for these butterflies for the larvae as well as adults in the garden so that the children can see them in their natural habitat. Anything I have read is very vague - mallow, thistle (but what varieties?) Any suggestions would be gratefully welcomed! Thank you very much and I look forward to your response.
According to Butterflies and Moths of North America the main larval host plant for Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady) butterflies are thistles and plants in the Family Malvaceae (Mallow Family). They prefer nectar from flowers of plants in the Family Asteraceae (Aster Family) that are 3-6 feet high. They especially like thistles, but also asters, blazing star, ironweed and Joe Pye weed.
Here are four thistle species that are native to Minnesota:
A combination of any of these plants would make a lovely garden. Not only would they attract the Painted Lady butterflies, but you probably noticed that many of these plants are hosts to other butterfly species as well. Be sure to check the growing conditions for each of the species above to be sure they match the conditions at your site.
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