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Saturday - August 22, 2009

From: Saint Paul, MN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Wildlife Gardens
Title: Host plants for Painted Lady Butterflies (Vanessa cardui)
Answered by: Nan Hampton


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:

Cirsium discolor (field thistle) and Cirsium muticum (swamp thistle).

There are also four species of plants in the Family Malvaceae that are native to Minnesota:

Callirhoe involucrata (purple poppymallow), Hibiscus laevis (halberdleaf rosemallow), Napaea dioica (glademallow) and Sphaeralcea coccinea (scarlet globemallow).

Others of the plants listed above that are native to Minnesota are:

Eupatoriadelphus maculatus (spotted trumpetweed or Joe-Pye weed), Vernonia baldwinii (Baldwin's ironweed), and Vernonia fasciculata (prairie ironweed).

Blazing Stars:  Liatris aspera (tall blazing star)Liatris punctata (dotted blazing star) and Liatris pycnostachya (prairie blazing star).

Asters:  Eurybia macrophylla (bigleaf aster)Symphyotrichum laeve var. laeve (smooth blue aster), Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster), and Symphyotrichum shortii (Short's aster).

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.

Cirsium discolor

Cirsium muticum

Callirhoe involucrata

Hibiscus laevis

Napaea dioica

Sphaeralcea coccinea

Eupatoriadelphus maculatus

Vernonia baldwinii

Vernonia fasciculata

Liatris aspera

Liatris punctata

Liatris pycnostachya

Eurybia macrophylla

Symphyotrichum laeve var. laeve

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Symphyotrichum shortii



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