Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
44 ratings

Thursday - June 01, 2006

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens
Title: Native host plants for Painted Lady Butterfly
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 spring the 1st grade raises painted lady butterflies from eggs, and then release them outside. I maintain the garden (I am actually the art teacher!) and would like to incorporate the host plants for these butterflies in the garden so that the children can see them in their natural habitat. Anything I have read is very vague - mallow (but what varieties?), thistle (again, what type of thistle), and a few other non-specific plants. Any suggestions would be gratefully welcomed! Thank you very much and I look forward to your response.


There appear to be many larval hosts for American Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) according to several sources (1. Ajilvsgi, Geyata. 1990. "Butterfly Garding for the South" Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing. 2. Neck, Raymond. 1996. A Field Guide to Butterflies of Texas. Houston: Gulf Publishing. 3. Damude, Noreen. 1999. Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife. Austin: Texas Parks & Wildlife.) Here are a few specific ones mentioned that are native to the Houston area. These are all in the Family Asteraceae (Aster Family) but there is also mention of plants in the Family Malvaceae (Mallow Family):

Sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium)
Parlin's pussytoes (Antennaria parlinii)
Mugwort wormwood (Artemisia ludoviciana)
Missouri ironweed ( Vernonia missurica) and Texas ironweed (Vernonia texana)
Rabbit tobacco (Evax prolifera)
Yarrow or Milfoil (Achillea millefolium)
Yellow thistle (Cirsium horridulum) and Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum)

The adults feed almost exclusively on flower nectar. Here are some species native to the Houston area that the adults feed on:

Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) Family Apocynaceae (Dogbane Family)
Giant goldenrod (Solidago gigantea) Family Asteraceae (Aster Family)
Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) Family Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
Deer pea vetch (Vicia ludoviciana) Family Fabaceae (Pea Family)

More Butterfly Gardens Questions

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

Butterfly plants for Kolkata, India
August 06, 2009 - I am from Kolkata, India. I have a garden of 200ft x 50ft size, mostly shadowed by big trees. I want to attract butterflies in my garden. Can you please let me know the flowers / plants I plant for bu...
view the full question and answer

Propagation of Asclepias tuberosa
June 18, 2012 - Re: Asclepias tuberosa, "butterfly weed" bush -- I have a bed in a mix of Shoal Creek well-drained caliche, soil, and some enrichment of mulch that gets almost full sun and low water. After 4 yrs a...
view the full question and answer

Propagating milkweeds for a monarch butterfly habitat
November 02, 2009 - I am planting a monarch habitat in Burnet, Tx with Antelope horns, Green milkweed, and butterfly weed. Should I plant in fall or spring??? Should I use cold moist stratification for 3 months at 40...
view the full question and answer

Will Canada geese eat Asclepias tuberosa from Cape May Court, NJ
May 20, 2014 - Will Canada geese eat my butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)? I know this plant is deer resistant. I really want to plant some on sandy bank near pond in my back yard, but I fear the geese will ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.