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Butterfly Food Plant List for Portland, Oregon, Willamette Valley, and the Columbia Gorge

Do you want to create an inviting garden environment for butterflies?  Are you interested in reversing the precipitous decline of butterflies in urban areas?  You've come to the right place.  

This list is divided into plants for each butterfly species, plants considered weeds but still valuable food for butterflies, and some canít-miss species that should be in every butterfly garden.  Some general hints follow.  One thing to bear in mind is that if you have an area with a well-established population of any of the food or nectar plants on this list, itís best to try to preserve that place intact since butterflies likely already use the plants for habitat.  This list includes butterfly and plant species common around Portland, if you are in a different area you may be able to find a local list by using an Internet search engine and typing "butterfly food plant list" along with your city, state, or county name as the search criteria.  

As you scan the list below, you'll likely notice that few of the plants on it appear in urban landscapes.  It's mostly our own doing that butterflies have vanished from cities.  Simply planting more of the right plants will go a long way toward bringing butterflies back.  Another idea that hasn't been scientifically proven, but seems logical, is that growing food plants in an irrigated area will extend their growing season and provide more opportunity for butterflies to feed.  You don't have to water most wild plants to grow them successfully, but during dry years a little water might help butterflies survive where they might not otherwise.  

Tips for Starting a Butterfly Garden

Donít use insecticides anywhere near your butterfly habitat.  

Start your plants from seed or from a reputable native plant nursery that doesn't dig up wild plants.  Learn to identify native plants and collect seeds on a hike.  If a plant won't grow from seed in your yard, it's unlikely that a mature plant would survive.  The Portland Audubon Society has an excellent native plant sale each spring, as do other organizations.  

Be picky about what you plant.  Most commercial wildflower seed mixes don't include useful butterfly food plants.  

Try to locate your habitat in a more naturalized portion of your yard so itís away from chemically treated areas.  

Keep streams and wetlands free of pollution, as butterflies often drink water from creeks, puddles, ponds, and mud.  It's certain death to a butterfly if you spray insecticide on a lawn, and then after watering a butterfly drinks the runoff from a puddle.  

Cats like to hunt butterflies, so keep them indoors during the hours and seasons butterflies are active.  

While some butterflies are distasteful to birds, others are delicious.  So it's a good idea to locate bird feeders away from a butterfly garden.  

Remove invasive plants such as ivy, scotch broom, and western white clematis and replace them with the species below.  

Choose a location where you can let plants establish themselves over a few years.  Many food plants are perennials and take more than a year to reach blooming maturity.  Balsamroot plants, for instance, take seven years to bloom from seed.  The slower growth of food plants is one reason they've become unpopular in our gardens.  When it comes to protecting butterflies, nature has lessons to teach us about patience.  

Your garden should have at least partial sunshine.  Butterflies are cold-blooded and need sun to warm themselves.  

Canít-Miss Plants

If you plant these in your garden, there will be at least some butterflies frequenting the flowers without too much work on your part: 
Asters (especially perennial varieties), dogbane, mock orange, yarrow, phlox, hawksbeard, ceanothus, pearly everlasting, and cosmos

"Weeds" You Should Keep

These plants are considered weeds, but are valuable food or nectar plants.  If possible, keep them in your yard, even if itís a small patch:   
Stinging nettle, dandelion, goldenrod, thistle (noninvasive species), wild rose, mint, vetch, clover, buckwheat, desert parsley, and Oregon grape.  Pacific madrone trees (Arbutus) are under-represented in urban areas, and are a food plant for the spring azure.  They are good to plant as long as you select an area where the tree's root crown will not be disturbed.  

Hint for mint:  If you donít like mintís habit of spreading underground, confine it to a container. 

Please avoid butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), as itís an invasive plant. 

Plant Information for Specific Butterfly Species


1.  When choosing between multiple species for a particular butterfly's food or nectar plant, choose plants that are native to our region first.  *Non-native species are marked with an asterisk.  

2.  For hawksbeards, Crepis capillaris is a non-native plant, but C. acuminata, C. atribarba, C. modocensis, C. occidentalis, and C. runcinata are natives.  

3.  Lathyrus latifolius (perennial pea, everlasting pea) is non-native and should be avoided even though it's offered at many nursery seed racks.  L. nevadensis, L. polyphyllus, and L. pauciflorus are natives.  

4.  Vicia sativa and V. villosa are non-natives.  Vicia gigantea and V. americana are natives.  

5.  There are some very nasty invasive thistles.  Only Cirsium callilepis (mountain thistle), C. remotifolium (weak thistle), and C. undulatum (wavy-leaf thistle) should be planted.  Canada thistle (C. arvense) is considered invasive.  

Butterfly Species Nectaring Plants Larval Food Plants
Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)
Mock orange, wild blackberry, thistle, helianthella, hawksbeard, balsamroot, yarrow, alfalfa*, red columbine (Aquilegia formosa), phlox, lilac, rhododendron, Rydberg's penstemon, dogbane Bigleaf maple, willow, aspen, black cottonwood, plane tree
Sara Orangetip (Anthocharis sara) Dandelion, daisies, strawberries (especially wild varieties), monkeyflower, Collinsia (blue-eyed Mary), rockcress, mustard Rockcress (Arabis ssp.), bittercress (Cardamine ssp.), toothwort (Dentaria ssp.)
Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon)
Dogbane, thistle, rudbeckia, balsamroot, zinnia, petunia, phlox, wild rose, hawksbeard, columbine, fireweed Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), carrot, parsley, Lomatium ssp. (desert parsley), fennel
Indra Swallowtail (Papilio indra) Mock orange, mints, daisies Lomatium ssp. (desert parsley)
Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) Mock orange, chokecherry, mints, Columbia lily, Tiger lily, sweet William, penstemon, toothwort, lilac, phlox, Rydberg's penstemon, dogbane Ceanothus (buckbrush, mountain balm, mountain lilac), red alder, cascara, creambush oceanspray, serviceberry, bittercherry, Douglas spiraea
Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus)

(photo is approximate)
Larval food plants at right, also cherry blossom, aster Lupine (Lupinus sericeus, L. lepidus, L. latifolius, L. sulphureus), Vetch (Vicia sativa*, V. villosa*), Lotus (deervetch), Medicago (alfalfa*), Oxytropis (false locoweed), Lathyrus (purple peavine, other wild peas), Astragalus (milkvetch)
Butterfly Species Nectaring Plants Larval Food Plants
Spring Azure (Celastrina argiolus)

(photo is approximate)
Coltsfoot, cherry laurel, cherry, heather, Ceanothus, currants, daphne, bluebell, hawksbeard, goldfields, stream violet Osier dogwood, elderberry, madrone, mountain balm (Ceanothus), creambush oceanspray, huckleberry, cherry, spiraea, ninebark
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
Asters, cosmos, rabbitbrush (Ericameria), white and mauve Canada thistle*, Helianthella, Douglas aster, red clover, chokecherry, osier dogwood, mint, dandelion Thistle (Cirsium spp.), mallow, lupine, potato
American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
Asters, cosmos, tithonia*, pearly everlasting, Canada thistle*, dahlia, cat's ear, Sedum spectabile Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), pussytoes (Antennaria, Gnaphalium), lupine, mallow, nettle
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) feeding on valerian
Ageratum*, hyssop, bull thistle*, oxeye daisy, rabbitbrush, valerian, chrysanthemum, fireweed, coneflower Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), false nettle* (Boehmeria), pellitory* (Parietaria), hops (Humulus lupulus)
Ridge Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha)
Hawksbeard, camas, stonecrop, phacelia, pussypaws, spring gold, yellow composites, yarrow, pearly everlasting Indian paintbrush (Castilleja spp.), few-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia sparsiflora), penstemon (wild varieties), owlís clover, monkeyflower
Butterfly Species Nectaring Plants Larval Food Plants
Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) Asters, dogbane, alfalfa*, wild onion, rabbitbrush, mint, white sweet clover, goldenrod Hops, beans, other legumes, wild roses, mallows
Little Green Hairstreak (Callophrys sheridanii)
Grayís Lomatium (Lomatium grayi) Various buckwheats including Erigonum heracleoides, E. strictum, E. douglasii, E. umbellatum, especially E. compositum

Atlantis Fritillary (Speyeria atlantis)

Mints, Monarda* (bee balm), thistle, goldenrod, Agoseris, Rabbitbush goldenweed (Haplopappus bloomeri), other yellow composites, pearly everlasting Viola adunca (blue violet), V. nuttallii (yellow wood violet)
Lorquinís Admiral (Limenitis lorquini)
Dogbane, mustard, yarrow, Tanacetum*, thistle, cascara berries Willow (Salix lasiandra, S. amygdaloides, S. exigua, S. lasiolepis), aspen, black cottonwood, serviceberry, Douglas spiraea, creambush oceanspray, apple, cherry, mountain balm (Ceanothus)
California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica) Asters, fir needle exudates, fir sap, and green fir cones Mountain balm (Ceanothus velutinus), deerbrush (C. integerrimus), C. sangunieus
Milbert's Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis milberti)
Asters, dandelion, bittercress (Cardamine), coltsfoot, tree sap, sunflowers Stinging nettle (Urtica)
Monarch (Danaus plexippus) Milkweed, thistles, red clover, vetch, heliotrope, blue salvia, yellow yarrow, rabbitbrush, goldenrod, aster, coreopsis, sunflower Milkweed (Asclepias spp. In our region, Asclepias speciosa is native)
Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
Currant, aster Willow, alder, birch, maple, poplar, hackberry, elm, wild rose, apple, spiraea
Butterfly Species Nectaring Plants Larval Food Plants
Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)
Hawksbeard, fleabane, aster, marigold, calendula, red clover, Rubus (blackberry/raspberry) alfalfa*, Lotus corniculatus* (bird's foot trefoil), Astragalus (milkvetch), Lathyrus (wild pea), sweet clover, Trifolium (red/white clover), vetch
Parnassian (Parnassius clodius)
Montia (miner's lettuce), small-flowered Epilobium, Columbia lily, tansy ragwort*, hawksbeard, dogbane, red clover*, pearly everlasting, aster, marsh marigold, grass of parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata) Dicentra formosa (bleeding heart), D. uniflora, D. pauciflora, D. cucullaria
Persius Duskywing (Erynnis persius)
Same as food plants to right   Lupines (Lupinus latifolius, L. sericeus) golden banner, buckbean (Thermopsis), Astragalus and Lotus spp.

Satyr Anglewing (Polygonia satyrus)

Aster, thistle Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), hops, willow


Pyle, Robert Michael.  The Butterflies of Cascadia.  Seattle:  Seattle Audubon Society, 2002. 

Scott, James A.  The Butterflies of North America.  Stanford, California:  The Stanford University Press, 1986. 

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