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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.

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Sunday - April 21, 2013

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

QUESTION:

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!

ANSWER:

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

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