Butterfly Host Plants

There are approximately 150 species of butterfly that have been recorded in Manitoba and a number of them can be observed in our pollinator gardens. What we plant can help determine how successful they are when they come to visit. 

While adult butterflies usually feed on nectar from a variety of flowers, their caterpillars can be host-specific. Some are able to feed on a number of plant species, including those that aren't normally found in Manitoba. This is common for butterfly species that have been introduced to the prairies. In other cases, they can be very host-specific, meaning they feed on one or a few closely related species of plant. Highly specialized butterflies may only be able to live in restricted locations where their host plants, or particular habitat types, occur. 

This list is intended to help you select host plants for butterflies that may be found in the urban gardens of southern Manitoba. Host plants may differ slightly throughout a butterfly’s range, and different species of butterfly occupy different types of habitat. There are a variety of field guides and websites that can help you learn more about the butterflies throughout Manitoba if you would like to expand on this list for your location (included after table). 

This list also includes a few species of flower-visiting moths. It is estimated that Manitoba is home to about 2000 species of moth, and many of those species do not pollinate. But, they still serve essential roles in our ecosystems. 

At the bottom of the table, we suggest flowering plants that are excellent sources of nectar. Most can be found at local greenhouses that supply native plants and their cultivars. There is also a list of native grasses that help feed and shelter a variety of skippers. 

Caterpillars that use trees/shrubs

Caterpillar Common Name  Species Host Plant Common Names Host Family/Genus/Species
Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Papilio canadensis Birch, poplar/aspen, cherry, ash, willow Betula, Populus, Prunus, Fraxinus, Salix
Compton Tortoiseshell Nymphalis l-album Birch, poplar/aspen, willow Betula, Populus, Salix
Gray Comma Polygonia progne Birch, elm, currants Betula, Ulmus, Ribes
Mourning Cloak Nymphalis antiopa Elm, poplar/aspen, willow, hackberry, birch Ulmus, Populus, Salix, Celtis, Betula
Northern Azure Celastrina lucia Blueberry Vaccinium
Striped Hairstreak Satyrium liparops Plum, Rose Family, saskatoon, blueberry, willow, oak Prunus, Rosaceae, Amelanchier, Vaccinium, Salix, Quercus
Viceroy Limenitis archippus Willow, poplar/aspen Salix, Populus
White Admiral Limenitis arthemis Birch, poplar/aspen, willow, cherry Populus, Betula, Salix, Prunus

Caterpillars that use flowers or grasses

Caterpillar Common Name  Caterpillar Species Host Plant Common Names Host Family/Genus/Species
American Painted Lady Vanessa virginiensis Pearly everlasting, pussytoes, cudweed, ironweed Anaphalis, Antennaria, Gnaphalium, Vernonia fasciculata
Baltimore Checkerspot (restricted to Southwestern MB) Euphydryas phaeton White turtlehead, may use English plantain and betony Chelone glabra, Plantago, Pedicularis
Black Swallowtail Papilio polyxenes Alexanders, and others in the Carrot Family (ex. dill, parsley) Zizia, Apiaceae
Cabbage White (non-native) Pieris rapae Cruciferous plants (Mustard Family) Brassicaceae
Clouded Sulphur; Orange Sulphur Colias philodice; eurytheme Vetch, peavine, other legumes including introduced species like alfalfa Vicia, Lathyrus, Medicago
Common Buckeye Junonia coenia Vervains, plantain Verbena, Plantago
Common Ringlet Coenonympha tullia Native and non-native grasses, occassionally sedges Poaceae, Cyperaceae
Common Wood Nymph Cercyonis pegala Native and non-native grasses, including big bluestem Poaceae, Andropogon gerardii
European Skipper (non-native) Thymelicus lineola Many non-native grass species Poaceae
Fritillaries Speyeria; Boloria; Euptoieta Variety of native violets Viola
Gorgone Checkerspot (uncommon) Chlosyne gorgone Native sunflowers, other asters, Loosestrife Helianthus (particularly pauciflorus), Asteraceae, Lysimachia
Little Wood Satyr Megisto cymela Native and non-native grasses, including bluegrass Poaceae
Long-dash Skipper; Peck's Skipper Polites mystic; peckius Native and non-native grasses, including bluegrass Poaceae
Milbert's Tortoiseshell Aglais milberti Nettles Urtica
Monarch Danaus plexippus Milkweeds (native species ideal) Asclepias
Northern Crescent Phyciodes cocyta Variety of native asters Asteraceae
Northern Pearly-eye Lethe anthedon Native and non-native grasses, including purple oat grass Poaceae, Schizachne purpurascens
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui Thistles and other asters, pearly everlastings, pussytoes, mallows, lupine Cirsium, Anaphalis, Antennaria, Malva, Lupinus
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta Nettles, pellitory, hops Urtica, Parietaria pensylvanica, Humulus
Silver-spotted Skipper Epargyreus clarus False indigo, wild licorice, peavine, hog-peanut, other woody legumes Amorpha, Glycyrrhiza, Lathyrus, Amphicarpaea
Silvery Blue Glaucopsyche lygdamus Vetch, peavine, other introduced legumes Vicia, Lathyrus

Caterpillars of pollinating moths

Caterpillar Common Name Caterpillar Species Name Host Plant Common Names Host Family/Genus/Species
Abbott's Sphinx Sphecodina abbottii Grape Vitis
Galium Sphinx Hyles gallii Bedstraw, fireweed, evening primrose Galium, Epilobium, Oenothera
Hummingbird Clearwing Hemaris thysbe Nannyberry, highbush cranberry, snowberry, honeysuckle Viburnum, Symphoricarpos, Lonicera (exclude japonica, invasive)
Snowberry Clearwing Hemaris diffinis Snowberry, dwarf honeysuckle, honeysuckle, dogbane Symphoricarpos, Diervilla, Lonicera (exclude japonica, invasive), Apocynum
White Underwing Catocala relicta Birch, poplar/aspen, willow, oak Betula, Populus, Salix, Quercus
White-lined Sphinx Hyles lineata Evening primrose, Rose family (ex. apple), a variety of woody and floral hosts Oenothera, Rosaceae


Additional sources of nectar (may also serve as hosts for some butterflies)

Bergamot Monarda fistulosa Joe pye Eupatorium maculatum
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta Meadow blazingstar Liatris ligulistylis
Blanket flower Gaillardia aristata New England aster Symphyotricum novae-angliae
False sunflower Heliopsis helianthoides Purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea
Flat-topped aster Doellingeria umbellata Smooth aster Symphyotricum laeve
Fleabanes Erigeron Stiff goldenrod Solidago rigida
Giant hyssop Agastache foeniculum Yarrow Achillea millefolium

Additional native grasses/sedges for butterflies that look great in gardens

Bebb's sedge (wetter areas) Carex bebbii Prairie dropseed Sporobolus heterolepis
Blue grama Bouteloua gracilis Sheep fescue Festuca saximontana
Green needlegrass Nasella viridula Sideoats grama Bouteloua curtipendula
Junegrass Koeleria macrantha Slender wheatgrass Elymus trachycaulus
Little bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium  Speargrass Hesperostipa spartea
Panic grass Dichanthelium Switchgrass Panicum virgatum


Additional resources for determining butterfly host plants: 

Thank you to Linda Dietrick from the Manitoba Master Gardener Association for compiling information for an earlier version of this table. 

*Note: that some butterfly genera/species names have changed since the publication of some of these resources