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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - April 28, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Plants for attracting butterflies in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My 9 year-old son is interested in finding butterfly eggs this Spring. His 3rd grade class is studying butterflies right now. I found a Wildflower Center article that lists several plants butterflies use as hosts, but I don't recognize their names and don't know where I would find these plants in the wild. There are many butterflies that all look the same fluttering around the leaves of one of our front-yard trees. We think the tree is a Ligustrum. But we don't know where these butterflies are laying their eggs. Can anyone help? Here is the relevant text from the article: "Host plants where butterflies can feed and lay their eggs also are crucial to a successful backyard butterfly garden. Having a diverse collection of such plants is also important because certain plants are hosts to certain types of butterflies. Most notable is the monarch, whose caterpillars feed on milkweeds. Other larval plant-butterfly pairings include but are not limited to passion vine (Passiflora spp.): Gulf fritillary; flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii): Janais Patch; oak (Quercus spp.): hairstreaks; nettles (Urtica spp.): red admiral; senna and partridge pea: cloudless sulphur; sunflower (Helianthus spp.): bordered patch; and California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum): Acmon blue. Some host plants also are good nectar plants, which makes them doubly useful." Thank you.

ANSWER:

Our first suggestion is that you go to the Master List of of native species in the Ann and O.J. Weber Butterfly Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Since they are growing in our gardens and the Wildflower Center is dedicated to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants grow natively, these plants should all be available in gardens or in the wild in the Austin area.

For instance, the first plant on this list is Acalypha radians (Cardinal's feather). Follow the plant link to each plant for a description of that plant and pictures. Some of the plant webpages will list the butterflies that visit that particular plant and pictures; for instance, Amorpha fruticosa (Indigo bush) has pictures of the moths that visit that plant. Beneath each picture is a link to BAMONA (Butterflies and Moths of North America) which will give you more information about that particular moth or butterfly. You can also follow the BAMONA link to a listing of butterflies and moths with their preferred plants and area where they grow.

Your son and his classmates will probably have more luck finding the larvae, or caterpillars, that have hatched from the eggs than the eggs themselves.

 

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