The Buzz

Planting for Caterpillars

I moved to Memphis from my hometown of Asheville, NC in April, 2015. Having interned at the Asheville Arboretum and the Highlands Biological Research Station Botanic Garden, I was excited to accept a position at the Memphis Botanic as a Horticultural Assistant. With a background in environmental science (I received a BA in the field from Mount Holyoke College in 2013) and a strong interest in native flora, my assignment as curator of the Anne Heard Stokes Butterfly Garden felt like an excellent fit. When I first walked through the Butterfly Garden, I saw the bones of a formal perennial border, with large blocks of Echinacea, Euthrochium purpureum (Joe Pye Weed), Rudbeckia, and other colorful nectaring plants. Of course nectar is important for adult butterflies, but what of the caterpillars? While it is usually counterintuitive for a gardener to sacrifice vegetation to hungry, hungry caterpillars, it is absolutely necessary in a butterfly garden to consider host plants. Below are some of the common butterflies to our region, with host plant suggestions that you can incorporate into your own garden to help rear the next generation of butterflies:



The sought-after monarch! Monarchs migrate thousands of miles each year, and may stop by your garden if you plant milkweeds for their larvae. There are several native milkweed species that would be appropriate, including Asclepias incarnata, Asclepias tuberosa, and Asclepias syriaca.

Gulf Fritillary


The native Pasiflora incarnata is the host plant for colorful Gulf Fritillaries. While it can be an aggressive grower in the garden, Pasiflora is beautiful on a trellis, with showy purple flowers followed by tasty edible fruits (to which we owe one of its common names, “Maypop”).

Black Swallowtail


If you’ve ever tried growing parsley or dill in your garden, you may have already discovered that these plants (both in the carrot family) are favorites of the Black Swallowtail. Another host plant worth trying is the showy native Zizea aurea.

Zebra Swallowtail


William Vann/

The striking Zebra Swallowtail is the state butterfly of Tennessee! If you have space in your garden, consider planting native pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) for their caterpillars to feed on.

Spring Azure

Look for these vivid blue butterflies in the spring months, and plant flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida is preferred over other Cornus species) for their caterpillars.

By Carson Ellis, Horticultural Assistant at MBG


Posted by Memphis Botanic Garden at 6:30 AM


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