A Hole in Every Host Plant

Fine Gardening - Issue 194
Photo: Danielle Sherry

Many gardeners want immaculate foliage, but to us perfect foliage means there aren’t enough caterpillars munching leaves to produce the diaphanous moths and bright-colored butterflies that we want. Many folks have lost the connection between the butterflies and moths they want, and the need to grow host plants for the larvae of those same butterflies and moths.

While bees and butterflies seem to be opportunistic generalists, sipping any flower—native or not—that pumps the most sugary nectar at the moment, caterpillars are fussy eaters, with most species eating only a few kinds of plants. Here are just a few of the host plants we grow within the garden, and the caterpillars they nourish.

See more about designing for pollinators in Designing a Stylish Pollinator Garden


  • Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca, Zones 3–9)
  • Swamp milkweed (A. incarnata, Zones 3–6)
  • Butterfly weed (A. tuberosa, Zones 3–9)

Monarch. Photo: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson/courtesy of

Clouded sulphur
Clouded sulphur. Photo: Megan McCarty/courtesy of

Clouded sulphur

Plants in the legume family (Fabaceae) including:

  • Alfalfa (Medicago sativa, annual)
  • White clover (Trifolium repens, Zones 3–10)
  • Pea (Pisum sativum, annual)


American lady

  • Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea, Zones 3–8)
  • Plantain-leaved pussy toes (Antennaria plantaginifolia, Zones 3–8)

American lady
American lady. Photo: Derek Ramsey/courtesy of

Black swallowtail
Black swallowtail. Photo: Gordon E. Robertson/courtesy of

Black swallowtail

  • Dill (Anethum graveolens, annual)
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum, annual)


—John Gwynne is a landscape architect who splits his gardening time between New York City and Little Compton, Rhode Island.

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