There are No Insect-Free Plants, but There are Good Insects: Our Butterfly List

 

Whether we're out giving a talk or a customer is at the nursery, we are asked many questions pertaining to almost anything plant-related. One of the questions that has become more of interest to us is: "Will I have more problems with insects now that I am planting more native plants?" First, all plants, native or otherwise, are visited by some insect. Keep an eye on Little Leaf Linden during July and August. Moreover, many of us have been led to believe that an insect-free world is possible, if not desirable. So say the chemical companies, anyway. Second, pesticides can actually cause more problems than they solve by killing far more good insects (98%) than the bad (2%). Chemical impact beyond their purpose is another issue, but that is for another time.

We have not used an insecticide, miticide, or fungicide or 20+ years and was forced to use a dormant oil application for the first time in 2009 in a very limited area. One might think that since we haven't used them, it means that our insect susceptibility is reduced because we grow natives. You'd be wrong. We have fewer pest problems because we grow our trees, shrubs and perennials under greatly reduced stress levels. In essence, the way we grow our plants reduces our need for many forms of pest control. It's also important to know that because we don't spray, the insects that eat the pests are also present, which further reduces our need for chemicals. Having predacious, good insects helps an ecosystem find a balance so that one group does not dominate and become a pest. This is not to say that we are not periodically invaded by bag worm or have a tree or two defoliated; we are, it's that we try to treat it in ways other than spraying.

There is another reason why we don't spray, one far more devious and underhanded: we love butterflies. As hard as it may be to believe, pesticides do kill butterflies, an outcome that is simply unacceptable.

Attracting butterflies can be as simple as planting daisies. However, if you're looking to attract an army of different butterflies, you must plant both the species that provide the flowers they feed on, and the species that lay their eggs on, too. The reason for the layered approach is this: butterflies gather nectar from all kinds of plants, but many species will only lay their eggs on a few specific species, and some are solely dedicated to one species. For example, the Zebra Swallowtail lays its eggs only on Asimina triloba (Paw Paw), and the American Painted Lady has eyes only for Antennaria plantaginifolia (Pussytoes). Species like these are not alone; many of the most beautiful butterflies are like this.

Over the years, we have seen the results of our no-spray approach bear unpredicted fruit. One night, while attanding to the greenhouses, we noticed that our Staphylea trifolia (Bladdernut) was in bloom and that it had drawn one hundred or so moths! After some checking with an entomologist, we discovered that the moth was specific to Bladdernut. The other closest Bladdernut to us was more than four miles away! The moths pinpointed our plants from miles away and showed up in force. Amazing!

Other species have shown up that you'd not see normally, because they're usually in secluded areas. Yet, species like the Spicebush Swallowtail and Orange Dog have eaten some of our 5-gallon shrubs to the ground. Even more reclusive species like the Promethea Moth have appeared on plants in the field. Even our greenhouses have had visitors. In fact, every year since 2001, the American Lady caterpillars make a showing on our Pussytoe plants, and not just a couple of them—we're talking twenty to thirty individuals!

So will good or interesting insects show up on your plants if you plant natives in your yard? We'd have to say yes! All it takes is a little planning and care, and you'll have a chance to bring in all kinds of bugs that you'd never think would be there.

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The Butterfly List

The following is a list of larval host plants and the butterfly species that are attracted to them.

Amelanchier spp.
Bruce Spanworm
Blindy Sphinx (small)
Striped Hairstreak
Amorpha canescens
Black-spotted Prominent
Dog Face
Asimina triloba
Zebra Swallowtail
Betula spp.
Compton Tortoiseshell
Dreump Duskywing
Mourning Cloak
Tiger Swallowtail
White-marked Tussock Moth
Carya spp.
Hickory Hairstreak
Hickory Horn D.
Luna Moth
Skipper spp.
Catalpa
Catalpa Sphinx
Ceanothus americanus
Filamont Beaver
Spring/Summer Azure
Celtis spp.
American Snout
Hackberry
Io Moth
Question Mark
Mourning Cloak
Spiny Oak Slug
Tawny Emperor
Comptonia
Gray Hairstreak
Cornus spp.
Monkey Slug
Dogwood Thyativid
Polyphemus Moth
Spring/Summer Azure
Unicorn Caterpillar
Corylus spp.
Polyphemus Moth
Saddled Prominent
Crataegus spp.
Interruped Dagger Moth
Small Eyed Sphinx
Smeared Dagger Moth
Striped Hairstreak
Fraxinus spp.
American Dagger Moth
Black Auches
Giant Leopard Moth
Harvis Three-Spot
Hickory Horned Devil
Linden Looper
Spiny Oak Slug
Tiger Swallowtail
Lindera benzoin
Giant Leopard Moth
Promethea Moth
Spicebush Swallowtail
Populus spp.
Compton Tortoiseshell
Red-spotted Purple
Twin Spotted Sphinx
Satin Moth
Sigmoid Prominent
Viceroy
Virgin Moth
Prunus spp.
Cherry Dagger Moth
Coral Hairstreak
Striped Hairstreak
Viceroy
Wild Cherry Sphinx
 
Tiger Swallowtail
Red-spotted Purple
Ptelea trifoliata
Giant Swallowtail
Quercus spp.
Striped Hairstreak
Edward's Hairstreak
Banded Hairstreak
Rhus spp.
Spring/Summer Azure
Ribes spp.
Gray Comma
Rubus spp.
Sphinx Hairstreak
Salix spp.
Acadian Hairstreak
Compton Tortoiseshell
Mourning Cloak
Northern Finned Prominent
Red-spotted Purple
Striped Hairstreak
Viceroy
Sassafras albidum
Cecropia Moth
Imperial Moth
Io Moth
Spicebush Swallowtail
Smilax
Spotted Phosphila
Turbulent
Spiraea spp.
Woolly Bear
Tilia spp.
Question Mark
Viburnum spp.
Hummingbird Cloverwing
Vitis spp.
Grapeleaf Skeletoniter
Xanthoxylum spp.
Giant Swallowtail
Skipper spp.

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