People enjoy hosting pollinators like butterflies in their home gardens, but beyond appreciating their beauty and grace, there’s other significant value in providing a proper habitat for them. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and approximately 35% of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to produce fruits, grains, and vegetables. That means about one in every three bites of food that we eat is a direct result of pollination from bats, bees, birds, butterflies, and other small insects like ants, beetles, flies, moths, and wasps.
Pollinators require three things: food, water, and shelter. Pollinator-friendly gardening practices include maintaining a wide variety of native plants, as indigenous and heirloom varieties generate more pollen and nectar than modern hybrids. An ideal environment also provides host plants for egg-laying and caterpillar noshing. Other practices include ensuring windbreaks and overwintering sanctuaries, furnishing a shallow damp area, and reducing or eliminating chemical usage by employing Integrated Pest Management.
While most gardeners usually have some varieties of nectar-producing plants in their landscape for adult pollinators, not all have the host plants to support eggs and caterpillars. Since host plants are not as well-known as their flashy friends, here’s a partial list of appropriate ones for our eco-region.
Pollinator host plants
Monarch butterfly host plants for our north-central Texas eco-region include Antelope Horn Milkweed (Asclepias asperula), Green Antelope Horn Milkweed (Asclepias viridis), Zizotes Milkweed (Asclepias oenotheroides), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), and Slim Milkweed (Asclepias linaris). Pussytoes (Antennaria Gaertn.) will host American Painted Lady caterpillars, and Twoleaf Sennas (Senna roemeriana, S. lindheimeri) will host Sulphurs. The hungry caterpillars will decimate their hosts, so you may want to position them behind other more presentable plants.
While not indigenous to the north-central Texas eco-region, other Texas natives that may be successfully grown as host plants in our area include Passionflower (Passiflora foetida) for Variegated and Gulf Fritillary caterpillars and Pipevine (Aristolochia erecta) for Pipevine Swallowtails.
Trees also serve as caterpillar hosts. Larger landscapes may include Elms (Ulmus spp.) for Questionmarks and Commas, Oaks (Querces spp.) for Hairstreaks, Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) for Elfins, and Hackberrys (Celtis occidentalis) for Snouts.
A diversity of nectar-producing plants to nourish the adults will complete the pollinator-friendly landscape. It’s a good practice to choose natives with varying bloom times to ensure that there’s always something of value for a hungry visitor. Monarch Watch offers a thorough list of butterfly host plants and nectar plants for all the Texas eco-regions: https://www.monarchwatch.org/garden/plant-list-tx-monarchwatch.pdf.
As well, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department provides comprehensive resource management information for all insect pollinators, including our beneficial native bees: https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_w7000_1813.pdf.
Some thoughtful additions to your garden will make it a “bee-utiful” full-service pollinator habitat.