Please Grow Caterpillar Food Plants to Help Butterflies & Moths!

Butterfly Conservation report that in the UK, long-term trends show that 80% of our butterfly species have decreased in abundance or distribution – or both – since the 1970s.  Do you see many butterflies and moths in your garden?  I hope to inspire everyone to help butterflies and moths.  Please don’t allow any pesticides, insecticides, or herbicides to be used on your garden, allotment, or indeed on any area in your locality, as these products obliterate our bees, butterflies, and moths.

Do you have any caterpillar food plants growing in your garden?  Caterpillar food plants are just as important as the nectar-rich flowering plants for adult insects, as without caterpillars there won’t be any butterflies or moths!

I was so excited to spot this Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io) at the edge of our pond, on the 20th April 2021!

Gardeners often worry unnecessarily about the risk of caterpillars devouring their prized garden plants, when in most situations there is absolutely no risk of this happening, as each species of butterfly and moth has their own species-specific food plants which they can’t survive without.  For example, Peacock Butterfly caterpillars only eat nettles and hops (Humulus lupulus), and Humming-bird Hawk-moth caterpillars feed only on Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum), Hedge Bedstraw (Galium album), and Wild Madder (Rubia peregrina).  If you observe a group of caterpillars munching nettles in your garden it won’t matter how proud you are of your lush lettuce leaves or how close the plants are, the caterpillars will remain focussed on feasting on nettles.  Nettles and caterpillar food plants grown in sunny locations will be visited more frequently by butterflies and will therefore be more likely to host a brood of caterpillars.

Nettles are a vital food plant for Peacock, Comma, Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, and Red Admiral Butterflies.

It’s more advantageous to grow a larger group of the same food plants together than to space your plants out sparsely or too far apart, as a large enough quantity of plants are needed to satisfy the female butterflies’ desire to find sufficient food to feed their offspring.  If plants are few and far between or too shaded, they’re unlikely to be tempted.

Grasses are vital food plants for a wide range of butterfly and moth caterpillars.  If you leave grassy tussocks unmown until October, you’ll be providing food for caterpillars.  The best grasses for butterfly and moth caterpillars include Fescues (Festuca), meadow-grasses (Poa), Bents (Agrostis), Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus), Cock’s-foot (Dactylis glomerata), and Common Couch (Elytrigia repens).

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) flowers open up as white flowers and turn sunshine yellow after they’ve been pollinated. Here’s a picture of an Elephant Hawk Moth on the Honeysuckle in my garden.

Our native Honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum is the food plant for the White Admiral Butterfly.  Lonicera periclymenum is a total superstar of a plant!  This gorgeous climber produces divinely scented flowers that enhance summer evenings with their luxuriously sweet and heady perfume.  Honeysuckle’s gorgeous white flowers attract bees, moths, and butterflies.  The blooms change colour from white to golden cream after pollination; as the flowers fade, they eventually mature to form berries that sustain Blackbirds, Thrushes, and other birds through autumn and wintertime.  Honeysuckle is drought tolerant.  The plant is self-clinging and very obliging, it requires minimal effort in terms of tying in and training and is easily grown from cuttings at this time of year.  For more information about growing Honeysuckle, please click here.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) supports a wide range of wildlife. Moths, butterflies, bees and other insects enjoy nectar from honeysuckle’s divinely scented flowers; the blooms fade to be replaced by berries – an important source of food for birds. Plus, honeysuckle’s leaves are food for caterpillars and not forgetting the fact that honeysuckle creates a nesting site for birds. This is some of the honeysuckle in my garden.
This is the White Admiral Butterfly (Limenitis camilla). The caterpillars of this butterfly feed on Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum). Many caterpillars are found in bright and sunny areas, but White Admiral Butterflies and their caterpillars are often spotted in shady areas.
Isn’t this a cool caterpillar? This is a Lackey Moth Caterpillar (Malacosoma neustria) feeding on Hawthorn in my garden. These caterpillars feed on Oaks (Quercus), Willows, and broadleaved trees and shrubs including Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), cherries, Plum (Prunus domestica) and Apple (Malus domestica).
Here’s the adult Lackey Moth (Malacosoma neustria). I found this moth in my garden last week.
A Silver-Washed Fritillary Butterfly (Argynnis paphia) feeding from Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa) flowers. Silver-Washed Fritillaries use Common Dog-violet (Viola riviniana) growing in shady or semi-shaded positions as their caterpillar food plants.
I found this Angle Shades Moth caterpillar (Phlogophora meticulosa) on the ‘Basil’ mint in my garden. Pictured on the 19th November 2022.
I found this caterpillar (possibly a Lesser Yellow Underwing Moth caterpillar) underneath the oldest tattiest leaves of one of my Primula vulgaris plants by my wildlife pond. I adore caterpillars as much as I love butterflies and moths.
I was so excited to spot this Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar in the narrow border around my wildlife pond in my old garden. These caterpillars feed on Rosebay Willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium), other willowherbs, bedstraws (Galium), Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana), and Fuchsias.
The Elephant Hawk Moth is a stunning moth; it’s also known by its scientific name, Deilephila elpenor. Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillars feed on Rosebay Willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium), other willowherbs, bedstraws, Galium, Enchanter’s Nightshade, (Circaea lutetiana), and Fuchsias.
I was excited to find this Comma Butterfly (Polygonia c-album) caterpillar spinning a chrysalis to allow it to metamorphosis into a butterfly!
I took this picture of a Comma butterfly just after it emerged from its chrysalis in my garden. Just a few weeks before I took this picture, I watched the caterpillar of this Comma Butterfly (also known by its scientific name, Polygonia c-album) feasting upon the leaves of my Blackcurrant plants. I only noticed the caterpillar because of its large size, there was minimal damage done to my plants. Comma caterpillars also feast on nettles.
I am fascinated by the intricate beauty of Comma Butterflies. I adore these stunning butterflies.
Mullein Moth caterpillars (also known by the scientific name, Cucullia verbasci) are stunning! I found this caterpillar on one of the Buddleja plants in my old garden. These handsome caterpillars usually feed on Mullein plants (Verbascum thapsus). I love to see these caterpillars in my garden.
Blue Tits and many of our garden birds, as well as hedgehogs, and other wildlife feast upon caterpillars. By growing caterpillar food plants we can encourage birds and wildlife into our gardens.
This is an Emperor Moth caterpillar feeding on Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). Emperor Moth caterpillars also feed on Heathers, Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus), Bramble (Rubus fruiticosus), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), sallows (Salix spp.) and birches (Betula spp.).
If you leave a patch of long grass in your garden you’ll be helping butterflies and moths, as many caterpillars feed on grasses. Last week, I spotted this pair of Meadow Brown Butterflies mating. This butterfly species uses a wide range of grasses as food plants for its caterpillars. Finer leaved grasses like Fescues (Festuca spp.), Bents (Agrostis spp.) and meadow- grasses (Poa spp.) are the Meadow Brown’s preferred, choice but some coarser grass species such as Cock’s- foot (Dactylis glomerata), Downy Oat-grass (Helictotrichon pubescens), and False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum) are also eaten by larvae as they age. Meadow Browns are also known by their scientific name Maniola jurtina.

For more articles that feature caterpillar food plants, please click here.

Caterpillars are a major food source for birds, hedgehogs and other wildlife. To find out more about hedgehogs, please click here.

For more articles about gardening for bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects, please click here.

For gardening advice for July, please click here.

To see my Calendar of Rose Garden Openings & Events, please click here.

To see my Calendar of Specialist Plant Fairs and Local Plant Sales, please click here.

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One thought on “Please Grow Caterpillar Food Plants to Help Butterflies & Moths!

  1. Emma

    July 7, 2023 at 7:30am

    Dear Beth, thank you for this very important reminder and round up.
    In my garden in North-East Germany, I throw seeds of Fennel and Dill in my flower beds and let them grow wild and propagate throughout the garden (I gather some fresh seeds every year). The fine green leaves are *loved* by several different types of caterpillars (I couldn’t tell you in details which ones) and the flowers attract many flying insects. I find Fennel’s and Dill’s tall and gracile silhouette very pretty too.
    I have 3 heritage vines (fruit grapes) on my house’s west wall. They are also loved by caterpillars.
    Keep on the good work ! I love reading about your adventures in your new garden !!
    Emma from Germany

    • Author

      Pumpkin Beth

      July 7, 2023 at 8:44am

      Hello Emma,

      It’s so good to hear from you! I totally agree – Fennel and Dill are very attractive plants. How wonderful that caterpillars are thriving in your garden.

      Thank you for your message, I always look forward to hearing how you’re getting on. I hope you have a lovely weekend lined up.

      Warmest wishes

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