Native Plants For Butterfly & Moth Caterpillars
Native plants are essential food plants for moth and butterfly caterpillars. It’s just about impossible for our local caterpillars to eat the foliage of plants from outside the continent. Without sufficient populations of native trees, shrubs, and forbs (non-grass annual and perennial plants), moths and butterflies don’t have food sources for their caterpillars.
Butterfly and moth larvae need native plants to feed on foliage. For example, Monarch caterpillars need to eat Milkweed leaves and many caterpillars eat the foliage of native grasses. Adult butterflies and moths need nectar-rich flowers to survive, and they need plenty of food sources, which are often different from those that the caterpillar will eat.
Remember – don’t kill the caterpillars in your butterfly garden!
Native Plants For Native Bees, Old World Plants For Honeybees
Much less research has been done on native bees and their use of Old World and native plants as nectar and pollen sources. It’s highly likely that native bees and other insect pollinators are closely associated with the native plants in their habitats.
The North American ecosystems in our communities and agricultural lands have been permanently altered. We depend on many Old World fruit, grain, and vegetable plants for food, and their primary pollinators – honeybees – which are not native to North America! Honeybee species, native to the Old World (Europe, Asia, Africa) live in hives. Many native bees are solitary. This means that the huge numbers of Honeybees can make them highly competitive with native bees when feeding on the same flowers.
So how can we use native plants and Old World plants to strike a balance between feeding native pollinators and honeybees? Old World plants are not just valuable to humans for food – they also have tremendous value as a nectar source for the honeybees that now live in North America, as well as native bees and hummingbirds. Old World annuals, perennials, flowering shrubs and trees are often the first choice of honeybees, so including Old World plants in your garden may help to leave more nectar for native bees, which depend on or prefer native plant species.
A Mix of Native & Old World Plants Creates An Ideal Habitat Garden
Currently, most landscapes are predominantly composed of Old World plant species and cultivars. To create a habitat-friendly garden that supports native insects and songbirds, we need to greatly increase the number of native plants. I recommend using a ratio of 70-30% or 80-20% Natives to Old World species.