Thursday, July 19, 2012

Native Plants for Wildlife

swallowtails I always suggest that people add at least some native plant species to their landscapes. I think native plants are good for several reasons. They are generally better adapted to the conditions of the local environment so they shouldn’t need as much care, water and fertilizer as other plants might.

One of the other reasons that I recommend native plants is that they are usually the best choices for providing food for local wildlife.

But then I started thinking about butterflies. You may already know that butterflies all have specific plants that they use for their host plants. Host plants are the plants on which butterflies lay their eggs and caterpillars dine while they are getting big enough to go to chrysalis, before hatching into butterflies.

Some of my favorite butterflies – those of the swallowtail family – dine on dill, parsley and fennel. In fact, I often end up spending ridiculous amounts of money on these plants to make sure that my gluttonous caterpillars don’t run out of food.

And to the best of my knowledge, those plants aren’t native. So I wondered if there were native plants that those butterflies dined on before early European settlers starting bringing over their favorite herbs and spices.

I have a couple of favorite sites for checking butterfly info so I check there first. The Butterflies and Moths of North America website lists the plants I knew about as well as Queen Anne’s Lace as a host plant. I checked, and Queen Anne’s Lace is not a native, and is also considered invasive in some areas.

None of my other usual sites listed any other plants except saying “plants of the carrot family”. I FINALLY found one source that listed these native species for Black Swallowtails.

native species

  • mock bishopweed, Ptilimnium capillaceum (Michx.) Raf.

  • roughfruit scaleseed, Spermolepis divaricata (Walter) Raf.

  • spotted water hemlock, Cicuta maculata L.

  • water cowbane, Oxypolis filiformis (Walter) Britton

  • wedgeleaf eryngo, Eryngium cuneifolium (Small)

Personally, I will probably keep buying a little parsley, dill and fennel for these beautiful creatures. We really don’t mind sharing. But if anyone knows of any NATIVE plant species that swallowtail caterpillars dine on, I’d love it if you let me know what works.

Happy gardening!

1 comment:

  1. The most common ornamental native in the carrot family is Zizia aurea, which is a beautiful host plant for swallowtails.

    Swallowtail caterpillars can dine on plants in other families sometimes too. Hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata) and spicebush (Lindera benzoin) are both hosts to some species of swallowtails.


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