Aside from beautifying your yard, many of the approved WaterSaver Landscape Coupon plants also double as hosts for butterfly and moth caterpillars. Many of us are familiar with the monarch butterfly and how the caterpillars only eat milkweeds (available on the coupon). But several other butterflies have evolved to use different plants as their caterpillar food source.
Aside from beautifying your yard and providing nectar for butterflies, many of the approved plants for the Watersaver Landscape Coupon also double as host plants for butterfly and moth caterpillars.
Snakeherb (Dyschoriste linearis) is a low-growing ground cover that spreads through underground rhizomes. In the spring and summer, small purple flowers can be spotted within the green foliage. Common buckeye butterflies will lay eggs that hatch into black spikey caterpillars. They’re difficult to spot and generally don’t cause any noticeable damage to snakeherb. (Don’t be put off by the name by the way, it refers to the plant’s historical use as a snakebite remedy.)
Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) is a versatile ground cover that supports many different butterfly species. The common buckeye along with phaon crescent and white peacock butterflies all lay their eggs on frogfruit. When in bloom, the tiny white flowers support an even wider variety of pollinators.
Flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus) is an attractive summer blooming shrub that plays host to the crimson patch butterfly caterpillars. They’re somewhat rare in San Antonio, but the small black caterpillars feed in groups and can denude many branches when they get going. But have no fear, the flame acanthus is used to this and will bounce back quickly as soon as the caterpillars fly away as attractive adults.
nInland Sea Oats sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and Muhly grasses (Muhlenbergia spp.) don’t produce beautiful flowers, but they do host caterpillars. Many skipper butterfly caterpillars feed on grass leaves before becoming winged adults.
Cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) produces eye catching displays of purple flowers after summer rains. Besides lending the landscape year-round interest, the silvery leaves are the choice food for the theona checkerspot butterfly and the striking Calleta silkmoth. While rarer than the checkerspot, the silkmoth caterpillar is huge and brightly colored and the adult is also large with an interesting wing pattern.
The Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) leaves are noxious to most herbivores, but the genista broom moth caterpillars can eat them. These small caterpillars don’t do much damage to mountain laurels and are rather rare most years. But they’re a good food source for adult bats.
Mexican buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa) is host to another moth species — the Packard’s prominent. These are medium-sized green caterpillars with a red horn on their tail similar to the tomato horn worm.
Planting butterfly host plants is just as important as providing nectar for attracting butterflies to your landscape. Additionally, a more diverse selection of host plants means a higher diversity of visiting butterflies.
By Cleveland Powell, Conservation Consultant for SAWS. He is enthusiastic about grass taxonomy and milkweed propagation. In his free time, Powell enjoys hiking around area parks in search of intriguing bugs, birds and plants.