California Native Plant Society

Native Plants - Photo Gallery

Butterfly Host and Nectar Plants

By Karen Callahan

Aristolochia californica and Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar (41k)

Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars feed on the leaves of California Pipevine (Aristolochia californica) and absorb chemicals that repel predators. Adult butterflies lay eggs on or near specific plants -- "hosts"-- to provide a food source for the larvae, or caterpillars, when they hatch.

Asclepias cordifolia and Monarch caterpillar (34k)

Purple Milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) with Monarch butterfly caterpillar. The several Milkweed species native to California are host plants for Monarchs. Monarchs migrate from the Sierra to winter on the central California coast.

Mimulus kelloggii and Checkerspot caterpillar (42k)

Kellogg’s Mimulus (Mimulus kelloggii) an annual monkey- flower of the Sierra foothills and a Checkerspot caterpillar. Checkerspots are highly variable in appearance and often use plants of the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae) as hosts.

Eriodictyon californicum and Chalcedon Checkerspot (36k)

Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicum) with Chalcedon Checkerspot butterflies. The main activities of the adult stage are courtship, mating and egg laying.

Allium sanbornii var. sanbornii and Grey Hairstreak (27k)

Sanborn’s Onion (Allium sanbornii var. sanbornii) visited by a Common Hairstreak. This butterfly uses plants from 20 different families as larval host plants.

Lilium humboldtii ssp. humboldtii and Pale Swallowtail (31k)

Humboldt Lily (Lilium humboldtii ssp humboldtii) flowers attract Pale Swallowtails and other butterflies. Butterflies drink flower nectar (using special mouth parts) and aid pollination of flowers.

Eriogonum nudum and Lupine Blue (26k)

Naked Buckwheat (Eriogonum nudum) and Acmon Blue butterfly. The buckwheats one of several larval host plants for Acmon Blues.

Quercus lobata (45k)

Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata) in the Central Valley are host to an undescribed subspecies of California Hairstreak found only in local small communities. Other subspecies of this Hairstreak are common throughout the foothills feeding on other plants. Oak woodlands are important habitats for many butterflies and moths including the California Sister, Golden Hairstreaks, and Dusky-wings. Mistletoe (Phoradendron sp.), a parasitic flowering plant, is host for the Great Purple Hairstreak.

Propertius Dusky-wing (51k)

Propertius Dusky-wing warming itself on a rocky hillside. Dusky-wing caterpillars feed on various Oaks (Quercus spp.), found in the Sierra foothills.

Dudleya cymosa (39k)

Live Forever (Dudleya cymosa) is a succulent plant of rocky outcrops. Dudleya is the host plant for a "local and uncommon" butterfly, the Sonoran Blue, that only lives near the Dudleya and flies in early spring.

Native Plants for Butterfly Gardens

Pictured are just a few of the California natives with flowers attractive to butterflies.

Mimulus aurantiacus (44k)

Sticky Bush Monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus)

Monardella villosa (22k)

Coyote Mint (Monardella villosa)

Eriogonum umbellatum (54k)

Sulfur Flower Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum)

Styrax officinalis var. redivivus (31k)

Snowdrop Bush (Styrax officinalis var. redivivus)

Aquilegia formosa (13k)

Crimson Columbine (Aquilegia formosa)


"Butterflies of California", Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, USGS, internet site:

Pyle, Robert M. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Knopf, 1995.

Shapiro, Arthur M. "Status of Butterflies", volume 2, chapter 27, Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project, Final Report to Congress, 1996.

Special thanks to Greg Kareofelas for his technical assistance and expert information.

About the Photographer

Karen Callahan is a professional photographer with a special interest in the native plants and landscapes of the Northern Sierra Nevada region. Look for her photographs in the newly published "Wildflowers of Nevada and Placer Counties, California" published in 2007 by Redbud Chapter of CNPS. Contact Karen by email at Photographs copyright by Karen Callahan and all rights reserved.

Photos and text © 1999 Karen Callahan. All rights reserved.



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