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
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
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
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
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
While some butterflies are distasteful to birds, others are
delicious. So it's a good idea to locate bird feeders away from a
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
Your garden should have at least partial
sunshine. Butterflies are cold-blooded and need sun to warm
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
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
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.
|Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio
|Mock orange, wild
blackberry, thistle, helianthella, hawksbeard, balsamroot, yarrow, alfalfa*, red
columbine (Aquilegia formosa), phlox, lilac, rhododendron,
Rydberg's penstemon, dogbane
maple, willow, aspen, black cottonwood, plane tree
|Sara Orangetip (Anthocharis sara)
strawberries (especially wild varieties), monkeyflower, Collinsia
(blue-eyed Mary), rockcress,
(Arabis ssp.), bittercress (Cardamine ssp.), toothwort (Dentaria
Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon)
rudbeckia, balsamroot, zinnia, petunia, phlox, wild rose, hawksbeard,
(Artemisia dracunculus), carrot, parsley, Lomatium
ssp. (desert parsley), fennel
|Indra Swallowtail (Papilio indra)
||Mock orange, mints,
ssp. (desert parsley)
|Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon)
chokecherry, mints, Columbia lily, Tiger lily, sweet William, penstemon, toothwort, lilac,
phlox, Rydberg's penstemon, dogbane
(buckbrush, mountain balm, mountain lilac), red alder, cascara, creambush
oceanspray, serviceberry, bittercherry, Douglas spiraea
|Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche
(photo is approximate)
|Larval food plants
at right, also cherry blossom, aster
(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)
|Spring Azure (Celastrina argiolus)
(photo is approximate)
laurel, cherry, heather, Ceanothus, currants, daphne, bluebell,
goldfields, stream violet
dogwood, elderberry, madrone, mountain balm (Ceanothus), creambush
oceanspray, huckleberry, cherry, spiraea, ninebark
|Painted Lady (Vanessa
rabbitbrush (Ericameria), white and mauve Canada thistle*, Helianthella, Douglas aster,
red clover, chokecherry, osier dogwood, mint, dandelion
(Cirsium spp.), mallow, lupine, potato
Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
cosmos, tithonia*, pearly everlasting, Canada thistle*, dahlia, cat's ear, Sedum
everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), pussytoes (Antennaria,
Gnaphalium), lupine, mallow, nettle
|Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
bull thistle*, oxeye daisy, rabbitbrush, valerian, chrysanthemum, fireweed, coneflower
|| Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), false
nettle* (Boehmeria), pellitory* (Parietaria), hops (Humulus
|Ridge Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha)
stonecrop, phacelia, pussypaws, spring gold, yellow composites, yarrow, pearly
paintbrush (Castilleja spp.), few-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia
sparsiflora), penstemon (wild varieties), owlís clover, monkeyflower
|Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus)
alfalfa*, wild onion, rabbitbrush, mint, white sweet clover, goldenrod
beans, other legumes, wild roses, mallows
|Little Green Hairstreak
| Grayís Lomatium (Lomatium grayi)
buckwheats including Erigonum heracleoides, E. strictum, E. douglasii, E.
umbellatum, especially E. compositum
Atlantis Fritillary (Speyeria atlantis)
(bee balm), thistle, goldenrod, Agoseris, Rabbitbush goldenweed (Haplopappus
bloomeri), other yellow composites, pearly everlasting
adunca (blue violet), V. nuttallii (yellow wood violet)
|Lorquinís Admiral (Limenitis
yarrow, Tanacetum*, thistle, cascara berries
(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
balm (Ceanothus velutinus), deerbrush (C. integerrimus), C.
Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis milberti)
dandelion, bittercress (Cardamine), coltsfoot, tree sap, sunflowers
thistles, red clover, vetch, heliotrope, blue salvia, yellow yarrow,
rabbitbrush, goldenrod, aster, coreopsis, sunflower
(Asclepias spp. In our region, Asclepias speciosa is native)
|Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
alder, birch, maple, poplar, hackberry, elm, wild rose, apple, spiraea
Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)
fleabane, aster, marigold, calendula, red clover, Rubus
Lotus corniculatus* (bird's foot trefoil), Astragalus (milkvetch), Lathyrus
(wild pea), sweet clover, Trifolium
(red/white clover), vetch
|Parnassian (Parnassius clodius)
small-flowered Epilobium, Columbia lily, tansy ragwort*, hawksbeard, dogbane,
red clover*, pearly everlasting, aster, marsh marigold, grass of parnassus (Parnassia
formosa (bleeding heart), D. uniflora, D. pauciflora, D. cucullaria
|Persius Duskywing (Erynnis persius)
| Same as food plants
|| Lupines (Lupinus latifolius, L.
sericeus) golden banner, buckbean (Thermopsis), Astragalus and
Satyr Anglewing (Polygonia satyrus)
nettle (Urtica dioica), hops, willow
Pyle, Robert Michael.
The Butterflies of Cascadia.
Seattle: Seattle Audubon
Scott, James A. The
Butterflies of North America. Stanford,
California: The Stanford University