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The easiest way to help butterflies and moths is to plant a butterfly garden. Even if you don't have a lot of space, you can choose a few plants that will attract many butterflies and moths to your yard.
When selecting plants for your butterfly garden, consider the butterfly’s entire lifecycle. In order to see all of the stages – eggs, pupae, caterpillars, and adults - you have to provide food for both the adults and the caterpillars.
Host plants are the food sources for caterpillars. Some species of butterflies and moths are very specific and can only eat one type of plant. For example, the Monarch butterfly can only eat milkweed leaves.
Local Butterfly Host Plants
Monarch Butterfly: Milkweeds, Asclepias species
Gulf Fritillary: Passionvine, Passiflora species
Painted Lady: Lupines (Lupinus species) and nettles (Urtica species), among others
Mourning Cloak: Willows, Salix species
Red Admiral: Nettels, Urtica species
Common Buckeye: Plantain (Plantago species), and snapdragon (Antirrhinum species), and penstemon (Penstemon species)
Cabbage White: Cabbage and other plants in the mustard family (Brassicaceae)
Giant Swallowtail: Citrus trees, Citrus species
Anise Swallowtail: Dill (Anethum graveolens), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), and sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) [Note: sweet fennel is a highly invasive plant. Do not plant this if you live near any wildland areas.]
As the name implies, these plants provide nectar that adult butterflies feed upon. Many flowering plants offer a decent supply of nectar, but those listed below are best suited to our area.
Local Butterfly Nectar Plants
Milkweeds, Asclepias species: Crowd pleaser
Lantana, Lantana species: Crowd pleaser
Butterfly Bush, Buddleia species: Crowd pleaser
Marigolds, Tagetes species: Crowd pleaser
Cape Plumbago, Plumbago auriculata: Attracts Gray Hairstreak, Marine Blue, and other blue (Lycenid) butterflies.
Buckwheat, Eriogonum species: Attracts blue (Lycenid) butterflies
Glossy Abelia, Abelia grandiflora: Attracts Fiery Skippers, Monarchs, and Western Tiger Swallowtails.
Lilac Verbena, Verbena lilacina: Attracts Monarchs, American Lady, Fiery Skipper, etc.
Some butterflies and moths are garden pests.
As mentioned above, the cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, lays eggs on many common garden vegetables. When the caterpillars emerge they feast on the tender leaves of cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and more. However, in our area their preferred food source are weeds, such as wild mustard, Brassica rapa sylvestris, and wild radish, Raphanus sativus. Try planting these or nasturtiums in your garden to deter the caterpillars from eating your veggies!
Some moths are pests in our homes.
The two most common household moth pests are clothes moth and the Indian meal moth. Clothes moths come in two varieties, the webbing clothes moth, Tineola bisseliella, and the case-making clothes moth, Tenia pellionella. For both species, it is the larvae (caterpillars), that feed on and damage clothing. They are attracted to materials such as wool, fur, feathers, and animal bristles in brushes.
The Indian meal moth is a common pantry pest. The adults are often seen long after an infestation has occured, as it is the larvae that do the damage. The larvae are small worm-like caterpillars and are frequently found in stored flour, grain, nuts, and sometimes corn chips too!
For more information about all of these pest species and methods of control, visit the University of California's Integrated Pest Management website.