May 27, 2016

Butterflies and Host Plants

A newly planted butterfly garden at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was aflutter with butterflies last Saturday.

Common Buckeye on Indian Blanket
A Common Buckeye posed nicely for me on an Indian Blanket flower, which happens to be one of its host plants. 

Host plants are important in attracting butterflies to your garden. Each variety of butterfly has specific types of plants that it will lay its eggs on. That plant then become food for the caterpillars when the eggs hatch.

Palamedes Swallowtail on Cowpen Daisy
The Cowpen Daisy, also known as Golden Crownbeard, was the most popular flower in this garden. It was attracting dozens of Palamedes Swallowtails as well as other butterflies and pollinators. Based on what I saw, this is a flower that I should add to my own garden.

Palamedes Swallowtail
I'd love to attract the Palamedes Swallowtail to our garden, though I've never seen any in our area. Perhaps we are out of its range, however it wouldn't hurt to try by planting one of its hosts, Sweet Bay, which is also a host plant of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail which we see frequently.

Duskywing on Cowpen Daisy
Also attracted to Cowpen Daisy for its nectar was a small butterfly which I think is called Horace's Duskywing. Oaks are its host plants. 

This butterfly was a little bit faded and missing the tip of one of its forewings, but it was still going strong. I've observed butterflies far more tattered than this one maneuvering in flight like they were newly emerged from the chrysalis. I've learned that butterflies are tougher than they look.

Bordered Patch Caterpillars on Cowpen Daisy
Soon we began to notice clusters of caterpillars on the Cowpen Daisies. A plant that is a great source of nectar and a caterpillar host is a bonus in any butterfly garden. I'm definitely planting this flower as soon as I can locate a source.

We later identified the caterpillars as the larva of the Bordered Patch butterfly. I wish I would have been able to get a picture of one. There were probably some around, judging from all the caterpillars we saw.

The butterfly garden at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was just planted this year in April, but it's off to a great start.


  1. Tracy, your pictures are so clear and look professional! I've never seen such clear detail on a butterfly. I hope you can find the daisy to add to your garden.

    1. Thanks, Margene. If I can't find the flower in the nurseries, I'm sure I'll be able to order the seeds.

  2. I've never seen so many caterpillars in one place. The garden is definitely a big hit and a good addition to the refuge. Your photos are wonderful.

    1. Thank you, Nancy. Evidently the Bordered Patch butterfly lays its eggs in clusters instead of spreading them around on the plant. There were clusters of caterpillars like this all over the garden.

  3. The photos are stunning--really beautiful captures. Nice work. It's been years since I've been to the Aransas Wildlife Refuge--should make a trip there again.

    1. Thanks, Tina. We really enjoyed our visit. I was told the butterfly garden was just planted in April and is a work in progress. However, there was an impressive number of butterflies in it when we were there.


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