Butterflies and Butterfly Gardening

An article based on information from The Cockrell Butterfly Center (Houston Museum of Natural Science)

Caldwell Nursery carries host food plants and nectar plants for most butterflies native to the greater Houston / Rosenberg area.

Some of our more common and beautiful butterflies of Harris and Fort Bend Counties, Texas

(Scientific Name)
Common Name

Host Plants

Nectar Plants

Agraulis vanillae - Gulf Fritillary


(Agraulis vanillae)
Gulf Fritillary
Caterpillar hosts: Various species of passion-vine including maypops (Passiflora incarnata) and running pop (P. foetida).
Adult food: Nectar from lantana, shepherd's needle, cordias, composites, and others.
(Anaea andria)
Goatweed Leafwing
Caterpillar hosts: Goatweed (Croton capitatum), Texas croton (C. texensis), and prairie tea (C. monanthogynus); all in the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae).
(Anthocharis midea)
Falcate Orangetip
Caterpillar hosts: Plants of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family including rock cress (Arabis) and winter cress (Barbarea) species.
Adult food: Flower nectar including flowers of mustards, violets, and others.

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

(Asterocampa celtis)
Hackberry Emperor
Caterpillar hosts: Various hackberries (Celtis species) and sugarberry (Celtis laevigata).
Adult food: Sap, rotting fruit, dung, carrion. Will take moisture at wet spots along roads and streams.
(Battus philenor)
Pipevine Swallowtail
Caterpillar hosts: Pipevines (Aristolochia species), including Aristolochia californica, A. serpentaria and others.
Adult food: Solely nectar from flowers including thistles (Cirsium species), bergamot, lilac, viper's bugloss, common azaleas, phlox, teasel, azaleas, dame's-rocket, lantana, petunias, verbenas, lupines, yellow star thistle, California buckeye, yerba santa, brodiaeas, and gilias.
Polydamas Swallowtail. Battus polydamas

(Battus polydamas)
Polydamas Swallowtail


Danaus gilippus larvae - dark form
Larvae dark form


(Danaus gilippus)
Caterpillar hosts: Milkweeds and milkweed vines. Some of the milkweeds contain cardiac glycosides which are stored in the bodies of both the caterpillar and adult. These poisons are distasteful and emetic to birds and other vertebrate predators. After tasting a Queen, a predator might associate the bright warning colors of the adult or caterpillar with an unpleasant meal, and avoid Queens in the future.
Adult food: Nectar from flowers including milkweeds, fogfruit, and shepherd's needle.

Danaus plexippus - Monarch

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis

Monarch Butterfly Larvae
Monarch Butterfly Larvae

(Danaus plexippus)
Caterpillar hosts: Milkweeds including common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), and showy milkweed (A. speciosa); and milkweed vine in the tropics. Most milkweeds contain cardiac glycosides which are stored in the bodies of both the caterpillar and adult. These poisons are distasteful and emetic to birds and other vertebrate predators. After tasting a Monarch, a predator might associate the bright warning colors of the adult or caterpillar with an unpleasant meal, and avoid Monarchs in the future.
Adult food: Nectar from all milkweeds. Early in the season before milkweeds bloom, Monarchs visit a variety of flowers including dogbane, lilac, red clover, lantana, and thistles. In the fall adults visit composites including goldenrods, blazing stars, ironweed, and tickseed sunflower.
Zebra Longwing
(Heliconius charithonius)
Zebra Longwing
Caterpillar hosts: Passion-vines including Passiflora suberosa, P. lutea, and P. affinis.
Adult food: Flower nectar and pollen, which are gathered on a set foraging route or "trap-line". Favorite plants include lantana and shepherd's needle.
(Junonia coenia)
Common Buckeye
Caterpillar hosts: Plants from the snapdragon family including snapdragon (Antirrhinum) and toadflax (Linaria); the plantain family including plantains (Plantago); and the acanthus family including ruellia (Ruellia nodiflora).
Adult food: Favorite nectar sources are composites including aster, chicory, gumweed, knapweed, and tickseed sunflower. Dogbane, peppermint, and other flowers are also visited.
(Libytheana carinenta)
American Snout
Caterpillar hosts: Several species of hackberry (Celtis).
Adult food: Nectar from flowers of aster, dogbane, dogwood, goldenrod, sweet pepperbush, and others.
(Nathalis iole)
Dainty Sulphur
Caterpillar hosts: Low-growing plants in the aster family (Asteraceae) especially shepherd's needle (Bidens pilosa), sneezeweed (Helenium), fetid marigold (Dyssodia), and cultivated marigold (Tagetes).
Adult food: Nectars at Labrador tea, asters, wild marigold, rabbitbrush, and others.
(Nymphalis antiopa)
Mourning Cloak
Caterpillar hosts: Willows including black willow (Salix nigra), weeping willow (S. babylonica), and silky willow (S. sericea); also American elm (Ulmus americana), cottonwood (Populus deltoides), aspen (P. tremuloides), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), and hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). Older caterpillars wander about and may be found on plants that they do not eat.
Adult food: Mourning Cloaks prefer tree sap, especially that of oaks. They walk down the trunk to the sap and feed head downward. They will also feed on rotting fruit, and only occasionally on flower nectar.
Papilio cresphontes - Giant Swallowtail
(Papilio cresphontes)
Giant Swallowtail
Caterpillar hosts: Trees and herbs of the citrus family (Rutaceae) including Citrus species, prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), and hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata).
Adult food: Nectar from lantana, azalea, bougainvillea, bouncing Bet, dame's rocket, goldenrod, Japanese honeysuckle, and swamp milkweed.
(Papilio glaucus)
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Caterpillar hosts: Leaves of various plants including wild cherry (Prunus), sweetbay (Magnolia), basswood (Tilia), tulip tree (Liriodendron), birch (Betula), ash (Fraxinus), cottonwood (Populus), mountain ash (Sorbus), and willow (Salix).
Adult food: Nectar of flowers from a variety of plants including wild cherry and lilac (Syringa vulgaris).

Black Swallowtail Larvae - Papilio polyxenes
Larvae on Fennel

Papilio polyxenes - Black Swallowtail
Newly hatched female

(Papilio polyxenes)
Black Swallowtail
Caterpillar hosts: Leaves of plants in the parsley family (Apiaceae) including Queen Anne's Lace, carrot, celery Fennel and dill. Sometimes plants in the citrus family (Rutaceae) are preferred.
Adult food: Nectar from flowers including red clover, milkweed, and thistles.
(Papilio troilus)
Spicebush Swallowtail
Caterpillar hosts: Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum); perhaps prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana), camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), and redbay (Persea borbonia).
Adult food: Nectar from Japanese honeysuckle, jewelweed, thistles, milkweed, azalea, dogbane, lantana, mimosa, and sweet pepperbush.
Phoebis philea, the Orange-barred Sulphur
seen during September
(Phoebis philea)
Orange-barred Sulphur
Caterpillar hosts: Cassia species in the pea family (Fabaceae).
Adult food: Nectar from many different flowers.

Phoebis sennae - Cloudless Sulphur

Cloudless Sulphur Larvae on Cassia artemisioides
Larvae on Cassia artemisioides

(Phoebis sennae)
Cloudless Sulphur
Caterpillar hosts: Cassia species in the pea family (Fabaceae).
Adult food: Nectar from many different flowers with long tubes including cordia, bougainvillea, cardinal flower, hibiscus, lantana, and wild morning glory.
(Phyciodes texana)
Texan Crescent

Syn: outdated
(Anthanassa texana)

Caterpillar hosts: Various low plants of the acanthus family including Ruellia, Jacobinia, Beloperone, and Siphonoglossa.
Adult food: Flower nectar.
(Polygonia interrogationis)
Question Mark
Caterpillar hosts: American elm (Ulmus americanus), red elm (Ulmus rubra), hackberry (Celtis), Japanese hop (Humulus japonicus), nettles (Urtica), and false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica).
Adult food: Rotting fruit, tree sap, dung, carrion. Only when these are unavailable do Question Marks visit flowers such as common milkweed, aster, and sweet pepperbush.
(Strymon melinus) Grey Hairstreak
(Strymon melinus)
Grey Hairstreak
Caterpillar hosts: Flowers and fruits from an almost endless variety of plants; most often from pea (Fabaceae) and mallow (Malvaceae) families including beans (Phaseolus), clovers (Trifolium), cotton (Gossypium), and mallow (Malva).
Adult food: Nectar from many flower species including dogbane, milkweed, mint, winter cress, goldenrod, tick trefoil, and white sweet clover.


(Urbanus proteus)
Long-tailed Skipper
Caterpillar hosts: Vine legumes including various beans (Phaseolus), hog peanuts (Amphicarpa bracteata), beggar's ticks (Desmodium), blue peas (Clitoria), and wisteria (Wisteria).
Adult food: Flower nectar from a variety of plants including bougainvillea, lantana, and shepherd's needle.

Red Admiral - Vanessa atalanta

Red Admiral - Vanessa atlanta underside

(Vanessa atalanta)
Red Admiral
Caterpillar hosts: Plants of the nettle family (Urticaceae) including stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), tall wild nettle (U. gracilis), wood nettle (Laportea canadensis), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), pellitory (Parietoria pennsylvanica), mamaki (Pipturus albidus), and possibly hops (Humulus).
Adult food: Red Admirals prefer sap flows on trees, fermenting fruit, and bird droppings; visiting flowers only when these are not available. Then they will nectar at common milkweed, red clover, aster, and alfalfa, among others.
(Vanessa cardui)
Painted Lady
Caterpillar hosts: More than 100 host plants have been noted; favorites include thistles (Asteraceae), hollyhock and mallow (Malvaceae), and various legumes (Fabaceae).
Adult food: The Painted Lady prefers nectar from composites 3-6 feet high, especially thistles; also aster, cosmos, blazing star, ironweed, and joe-pye weed. Flowers from other families that are visited include red clover, buttonbush, privet, and milkweeds.
(Zerene cesonia)
Southern Dog Face Sulphur
Caterpillar hosts: Small-leaved plants in the pea family (Fabaceae) including alfalfa (Medicago sativa); prairie clovers (Pentalostemon), indigo (Dalea), and clover (Trifolium) species.
Adult food: Nectar from flowers including alfalfa, coreopsis, houstonia, and verbena.

Monarch Butterfly flying around Chaste Tree Flowers
Monarch flying around Chaste Tree Flowers at Caldwell Nursery.

Most butterfly nectar plants have a number of small flowers with short floral tubes borne in showy clusters. Avoid doubles and hybrids (the closer to the native or 'wild type' the better, as these have more nectar). Best colors are pink, red, purple, orange, yellow, or combinations. Top butterfly -attracting flowers are the members of the sunflower family and the verbena family - almost any plants in these two families will work. Although some butterfly flowers are sweet-smelling, some have a foetid smell or no scent at all.

There are many other potential nectar plants not listed here - visit our garden center on a warm sunny day and watch what the butterflies are visiting!

To help you plan your garden we've listed plants by size. You may wish to position the hostplants behind the nectar plants, if you object to seeing plants that are eaten up by caterpillars! But we're betting you'll soon want the caterpillars up front and center.

Monarch Butterfly Larvae

Plants 0-2 feet tall

  • Asters (Aster spp., Asteraceae)
  • Brown and Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp., Asteraceae)
  • Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens: Boraginaceae)
  • Mexican Blanket (Gaillardia pulcherrima, Asteraceae)
  • Purple Cone Flower (Echinacea purpurea, Asteraceae)
  • Verbenas (Verbena spp., Verbenaceae)

Plants 2-4 feet tall

  • Bee Balm (Monarda spp., Lamiaceae)
  • Blazing Star (Liatris spp., Asteraceae)
  • Cigar Plant (Cuphea 'David Verity', Lythraceae)
  • Coral Plant (Russelia spp., Scrophulariaceae)
  • Egyptian Star or Pentas (Pentas lanceolata, Rubiaceae)
  • Boneset, Mistflower, or Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium spp., Asteraceae)
  • Porter Weed (Stachytarpheta spp., Verbenaceae)
  • Salvias (Salvia spp., Lamiaceae)
  • Wheat (Celosia spictata, Amaranthaceae)

Plants over 4 feet tall

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii, Loganiaceae)
  • Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis, Rubiaceae)
  • Flame Bush (Hamelia patens, Rubiaceae)
  • Golden Dewdrop (Duranta repens, Duranta erecta, Verbenaceae)
  • Jatropha (Jatropha integerrima, Euphorbiaceae)
  • Mexican Bauhinia (Bauhinia mexicana, Caesalpinaceae)
  • Mexican Flame Vine (Senecio confusa, Asteraceae)
  • Yellow Bells (Tacoma stans, Bignoniaceae)

Shrimp Plant, food for Texas Crecent Butterfly

Did You Know?

  • Many of the flowers listed here will also attract other beneficial insects.
  • Bees especially like white, yellow, and blue flowers.
  • Some flies (such as bee flies, syrphid flies) also pollinate flowers, as do some beetles (especially soldier or flower beetles).
  • Hawkmoths are attracted to white blooms that open or are most fragrant in the evening. Consider planting a 'moon garden' for these interesting butterfly cousins!
  • Hummingbirds will visit many butterfly flowers, especially red, tubular ones such as Hamelia and Russelia.
  • Learn to enjoy all of the pollinators that visit your garden!

Giant Swallowtail visiting Lantana flowers

Butterfly Links

Butterflies science explorer Site at U.S. Geological Survey
Cockrell Butterfly Center at Houston Museum of Natural Science
The International Lepidoptera Survey (TILS) - Photos, Articles, Great Links Page
The Dallas County Lepidopterists' Society - Dallas Texas, Nice photos, many found in our area

All photos ©2005 Michael Burnett, All Rights Reserved