Best Food Plants For Butterflies
©Shaun Barr Photography
Spring is when many of the UK's butterfly species emerge and take to the wing for the first time, encouraged to life by the warming sunshine. From Orange Tips to the Green Hairstreak (pictured above) a continuous succession of species become active. But like so many of our pollinating insects, butterflies are in trouble; in fact three-quarters of British species are in decline.
Our gardens are therefore more important than ever before for providing butterflies with a habitat in which they can survive. Planting nectar-rich flowers is of course an important step you can take to encourage butterflies. To find out some of the very best plants for providing nectar take a look at Top Ten Plants For Butterflies.
While it's important for us to provide the butterflies with nectar from flowers, ultimately their larvae need something to feed on, and it's usually more wild plants on which they depend. The list below contains some of the best food plants for butterflies; something worth bearing in mind when it comes to choosing plants for your garden or deciding which wild plants already growing are worth holding on to.
If you can leave even just a small patch of your garden to grow wild for any of the following you'd be creating a much-needed habitat and food source. Allowing even just a small section of your lawn to grow longer for instance, will transform those grasses into a good food source for a variety of butterflies as you'll see under 'Grasses' in the table.
The size of your garden will obviously limit what you can grow, but as even small plants such as primroses and cowslips are useful as larval food plants there's something here for everyone.
Alder buckthorn Brimstone
Aspen Large Tortoiseshell
Bell Heather Silver-studded Blue
Bilberry Green Hairstreak
Birdsfoot trefoil Common Blue, Green Hairstreak, Silver-studded Blue, Dingy Skipper
Bramble Green Hairstreak, Grizzled Skipper, Holly Blue
Brassicas (cabbages etc) Small White, Large White
Broom. Green Hairstreak
Clovers Clouded Yellow, Pale Clouded Yellow
Common Stork's-bill Brown Argus
Cotton Grass Large Heath
Cowslip Duke of Burgundy
Cuckoo Flower Orange Tip, Green-veined White
Docks and Sorrel Small Copper
Dog Violet Dark Green Fritillary, High Brown Fritillary, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Silver-washed Fritillary
Garlic Mustard Orange Tip, Green-veined White
Foxglove Heath Fritillary
Grasses, various Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Speckled Wood, Wall Brown, Small Heath, Marbled White, Large Skipper
Gorse Holly Blue
Hawthorn Black-veined White
Holly Holly Blue (First brood)
Ivy Holly Blue (Second brood)
Kidney Vetch Small Blue
Nasturtium Small White
Primrose Duke of Burgundy
Ribwort Plantain Glanville Fritillary, Heath Fritillary
Small Scabious Marsh Fritillary
Snowberry Large Blue
Stinging Nettle* Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell
Thistle Painted Lady
Viper's Bugloss Painted Lady
Wild Marjoram Large Blue
*Stinging Nettle (To grow enough stinging nettles to encourage butterflies to use as a food plant you will need to allow a large clump to grow, so perhaps left to bigger gardens and fields.)