En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

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

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - April 21, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens
Title: Food for butterflies in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Mr. Smarty Plants, my kids and I are raising Painted Lady butterflies from caterpillars but it's still too cold to release them (oddly cool spring we're having!) If they mate and lay eggs, what local native plants can I give them in captivity for them to eat? I read that thistle is one option but does it matter which kind? Thanks for any input!


First, read our How-To article on Butterfly Gardening. Now go to our Master Taxa List of the Plants in the Ann and O.J. Weber Butterfly Garden. Since this garden is at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (home of Mr. Smarty Plants) right here in Austin, TX, you can be sure these are all plants that will flourish here. If at all possible, visit the Wildflower Center and see the Butterfly Garden and see the Insectary where the volunteers and staff have gathered leaves of specific plants for the caterpillars (larvae) to eat. And read this article Raising Butterflies on Vanessa cardui.

 Let us recommend, if you have not already discovered it, a wonderful resource for anyone interested in butterflies - Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA). Follow that link to their Home Page, where you can search for information on a specific butterfly.

We began by searching on Google for "Painted Lady Butterfly." That took us to this site on Vanessa Cardui, Painted Lady. With the scientific name of the butterfly in hand, we went to the BAMONA site linked above. There, using a series of drop-down menus, we indicated that the species we want to investigate was a butterfly, the region is the United States, state, Texas and county, Travis.

 On the page on the Painted Lady, we found this paragraph:

"Caterpillar Hosts: More than 100 host plants have been noted; favorites include thistles (Asteraceae), hollyhock and mallow (Malvaceae), and various legumes (Fabaceae)."

Finally, we found some plants native to Travis County that are in the lists of plants preferred by this butterfly. Follow each plant to our webpage on that plant to learn its growing conditions, bloom time, etc.

Achillea millefolium (Common yarrow)

Abronia fragrans (Fragrant verbena)

Cirsium texanum (Texas thistle) - Larvae of painted-lady butterfly feed on foliage.


From the Image Gallery

Common yarrow
Achillea millefolium

Texas thistle
Cirsium texanum

Indian mallow
Abutilon fruticosum

More Butterfly Gardens Questions

Hummingbird and butterfly plants for Idaho
May 04, 2010 - I'm interested in planting a hummingbird and butterfly friendly garden. What do you suggest? I would like something that will rebloom every year and that has long lasting blooms or some different one...
view the full question and answer

Type of non-native parsley for swallowtails from Austin
September 02, 2012 - What is the best type of parsley for Yellow Swallowtails? Lost a caterpillar when it ran out of food from a parsley plant. I can't remember what kind of parsley. It would not feed on Rue, cilantro...
view the full question and answer

Yellow butterfly in Tennessee
August 19, 2009 - I live in Crossville Tenn and am seeing a butterfly that is yellow with a long hanging. What is it and what is it doing?
view the full question and answer

Why is butterfly weeds blooming in October?
November 07, 2013 - I live in Horseshoe Bay Texas and have native landscape environment. Last year, in early September, I had a plethora of butterfly weed in bloom and a large variety and quantity of butterflies. This ye...
view the full question and answer

Butterfly Plants for D.C. Garden
July 16, 2015 - I have one half of the side of the house face NE and the other half faces NW. The front of the house faces east. The back of the house faces west which is woody with native trees of Rock Creek Park of...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center