Riverwoods Preservation Council

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
 Plants for Butterflies

 May - June, 2007

  Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

(photograph courtesy of Rich Famularo)

Approximately 150 species of butterflies can be found in Illinois. Unfortunately, they are declining in numbers, mainly due to the loss of wetlands and prairies. Planting butterfly gardens will help support their populations and, as a bonus, give us the pleasure of their beauty in our yards.

Plants for caterpillars
When planning a butterfly garden, we always think about the showy flowers that attract the butterflies. But remember that butterflies start out as caterpillars, the butterfly larvae. And caterpillars require specific (generally native) woody plants (trees or shrubs) to feed upon. You won’t get the butterflies if you don’t have the plants necessary for their larvae.
Here are some examples of woody plants needed for specific butterfly larvae. They are all native to the Riverwoods area. Many are very common here and can be easily found throughout the village.

Scientific Name Common Name Type of Plant Butterfly Larva
Amelanchier spp Serviceberry Large shrubs Striped Hairstreak
Amorpha canescens Leadplant Prairie plant / small shrub Dog Face
Asimina triloba Paw Paw Understory tree Zebra Swallowtail
Betula spp Birch Trees Compton Tortoiseshell, Mourning Cloak, Tiger Swallowtail
Celtis spp Hackberry Tree Hackberry Butterfly, Snout Butterfly, Question Mark, Mourning Cloak
Cornus spp Dogwood Shrubs Spring/Summer Azure
Crataegus spp Hawthorn Understory trees Hawthorn Striped Hairstreak
Prunus serotina Black Cherry Tree Tiger Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple
Salix spp Willow Trees Striped Hairstreak, Acadian Hairstreak, Viceroy, Compton Tortoiseshell, Mourning Cloak, Red-spotted Purple
Tilia americana Linden/Basswood Tree Question Mark


Plants for butterflies
Most flowering plants that attract butterflies require sun. Plant these at the woodland edge, in an open meadow, a prairie or in a sunny garden. The butterflies require sun, too. They warm their flight muscles in the sunlight and will rest on a warm stone or board when they aren’t feeding.

Aside from their beauty, butterflies are excellent pollinators and the larvae are an important part of the food chain. The larvae may munch away at some of your garden plants as well as their host trees, but consider that a good sign…not a problem.

Insecticides will harm the larvae and butterflies, along with whatever other insects you may target, so refrain from using insecticides in your butterfly garden, (if you feel you must use them at all).

Butterflies usually like flowers with a ‘landing pad’ like coneflowers, asters or the clustered flower heads of milkweed or phlox. In general, the butterflies are not as picky about their food as the caterpillars. Large masses of nectar-producing flowers will attract many different species. Here are some suggestions for native plants you can put in your garden, along the edge of the woods or in an open meadow.

Scientific Name Common Name Color Height Season Sunlight
Aruncus dioicus Goat's Beard White 3 - 5' June-July Pt Sh
Asclepias spp Milkweed Pink 1 - 5' July - Aug Sun, Pt Sun
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed Orange 1 - 2.5' June-Sept Sun
Aster novae-angliae New England Aster Violet-Purple 3 - 6' Aug - Oct Sun, Pt Sun
Echinacea spp Coneflowers White, Purple 2 - 4' June-Sept Sun, Pt Sun
Eupatorium perfoliatum Boneset White 2 - 4' July-Aug Sun
Eupatorium maculatum or purpureum Joe Pye Weed Lavender 2 - 5' Aug-Sept Sun (mac.), Pt Sh (purp.)
Liatris spp Blazing Star Rose/Purple 18 - 48" Aug-Oct Sun
Monarda fistulosa Beebalm / Bergamot Lavender 2 - 4' July - Sept Sun
Phlox spp Phlox Pink 2 - 4' July - Sept Sun
Rudbeckia hirta Black-eyed Susan Yellow 1 - 2' July Sun, Pt Sh
Solidago spp Goldenrod Yellow 2 - 7' Aug-Oct Sun, Pt Sh
Veronia Ironweed Magenta 3 - 6' Aug-Oct Pt Sun
© Riverwoods Preservation Council- - Page last updated: December 2009