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Best Food Plants For Butterflies


This is the time of year when many the UK's butterfly species are emerging and taking to the wing for the first time, encouraged to life by the warming sunshine. From Orange Tips to the Green Hairstreak (pictured above) there are a variety of species now 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 Best Plants For Butterflies - NatureTree Top Ten.

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.

So 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.

For beautiful butterfly homes and habitats take a look at our Wildlife Collection.


Alder buckthorn



Large Tortoiseshell

Bell Heather

Silver-studded Blue


Green Hairstreak



Birdsfoot trefoil

Common Blue, Green Hairstreak, Silver-studded Blue, Dingy Skipper


Green Hairstreak, Grizzled Skipper, Holly Blue

Brassicas (cabbages etc)

Small White, Large White


Green Hairstreak


Clouded Yellow, Pale Clouded Yellow

Common Stork's-bill

Brown Argus

Cotton Grass

Large Heath


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


Heath Fritillary

Grasses, various

Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Speckled Wood, Wall Brown, Small Heath, Marbled White, Large Skipper


Holly Blue


Black-veined White


Holly Blue (First brood)


Holly Blue (Second brood)

Kidney Vetch

Small Blue


Small White


Duke of Burgundy

Ribwort Plantain

Glanville Fritillary, Heath Fritillary

Small Scabious

Marsh Fritillary


Large Blue

Stinging Nettle*

Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell.


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.)