When it comes to attracting beautiful butterflies and birds to your yard or community, the best thing you can do is use native plants. By planting natives, you restore the health and function of your local ecosystem. This website will help you find the best native plants specifically for your area that attract butterflies and moths and the birds that feed on their caterpillars, based on the scientific research of Dr. Douglas Tallamy and Research Assistant Kimberley Shropshire. 3,200 references were used to create the data base.
Did you know that a native oak tree can support the caterpillars over 500 species of butterflies and moths? Those caterpillars are a critical food source for over 96 percent of the songbirds. For example, a pair of Carolina chickadees requires between 6,000 and 9,000 caterpillars to successfully raise just one brood of young. That’s the power and importance of planting native plants when it comes to supporting wildlife. This tool focuses on butterflies and birds, but many other wildlife species also benefit when you plant natives.
No other online resource offers zip code specific lists of native plants ranked by the number of butterflies and moths that use them as caterpillar host plants.
*Plants are ranked by greatest number of butterfly and moth associations, since their young play a directly proportional role in supporting bird populations. Butterflies and moths are ranked by choosiness of their diet, indicating which may receive the greatest benefit by inclusion of their host plant in your garden.
Dr. Doug Tallamy is the T.A. Baker Professor of Agriculture in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware. A renowned expert in the science of plant-insect interactions, he is passionate about helping people create wildlife habitat in their own backyards and gardens. In addition to his many scientific publications, Doug has written Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants and co-authored The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden. These books help anyone with a small patch of soil find the best native plants for supporting an entire ecosystem of moths, butterflies, and the many birds that eat caterpillars.
The Native Plant Finder is an ambitious work in progress. No other site exists to provide information about which native plants are best at supporting butterfly and moth species, then gives you personalized information for your exact zip code!
We make continuous improvements. You might notice updates like new pictures, highlights of threatened and endangered species, and more information about how to find and grow native species. We hope you enjoy watching this site transform from great to magnificent!
This website is designed to help you find the best species to attract the butterflies and birds in your area.
Here's how it works:
1. Enter your zip code at the top of the page. This will filter search results to give you only plants that are native to your specific area.*
2. Click "Find Native Plants" to get a list of the host plants for butterfly and moth caterpillars. The plants are ranked by the number of caterpillar species they support, so if you plant these species you are more likely to attract a whole array of different butterfly and moth species. The results are broken into two categories to help in your planning: 1) flowers and grasses and 2) trees and shrubs.
3. Click on any individual genus to learn more about it, including a listing of the specific plant species of the genus in your area.
4. Click on any individual plant to find the species of butterflies and moths that use it as a host plant.
5. Click "Find Butterflies" to get a list of butterfly and moth species in your area and what host plants their caterpillars use. The butterflies and moths are ranked by the choosiness of their diet. The ones that appear first are the species that only eat one or a few types of plants. Unless they find the plant species they need, they cannot live in your area.
6. Click on the star next to each plant or insect of interest to save to your own personalized list. Then click "My List" to create a profile and to save the specific plants that you want to make part of your wildlife-friendly garden.
7. Use this site on your mobile phone or tablet while you're on the go and even right in the garden center.* The search results are based on the historic native ranges of plants as determined by the USDA NRCS Plant Database, which are based on range maps that go down to the county level for most states. For this reason, some plants generally native to your state might not show up in your zip code search results. Results will only show native plants that were historically present in your county, and may not show if county data does not exist. We are working to fill in this information. For garden purposes, planting species historically native to adjacent counties is also acceptable, so feel free to search nearby zip codes for additional suggestions. Results are organized by plant genus with a list of species native to your zip code. In a few cases, some of the listed species are native to other parts of North America and have been introduced (naturalized) to your zip code. We are working to remove those few instances.
Native plants are the plant species that are naturally found in your area. Plants introduced from other regions of the United States or other parts of the world are called exotics. Native plants have evolved in your region over the course of hundreds of thousands of years. These plants thrive in the local soils, rainfall levels, weather, and climate conditions. Every region has different native plant communities.
Native plants support local ecosystems better than introduced species, primarily by supporting food webs far better than non-natives. From perennial wildflowers to berrying shrubs to majestic canopy trees, native plants are beautiful and functional choices for any landscape. Many are just as ornamental as common exotics. They are unique to your geographic region! When you plant natives, you celebrate your natural heritage and reconnect your yard or garden to the natural world around you. When many of us plant natives in a particular area, we help to create wildlife corridors that are necessary to sustain groups of plants and animals in our highly altered modern landscapes. Plus, native trees and flower beds typically require less fertilizer and water than lawns, saving you time and money!
Wildlife evolved alongside the native plants in your region and use those natives as food, shelter, and a place to raise their young. As a result, nearly every living creature on the planet relies on native plants for survival. They are the foundation of local food webs, giving butterflies, birds, and other wildlife what they need to survive.
Anyone who has watched a caterpillar make the dramatic change into a butterfly knows that butterflies and moths are some of the most interesting creatures on this planet. There is the monarch butterfly, which migrates thousands of miles across the United States to cluster on a few mountaintops in Mexico. The cecropia moth is a silk moth the size of a dessert plate that flits secretly through our night sky. Species like these delight us with their beauty and fascinating ecology.
But did you know that other species rely on butterflies and moths for food? Caterpillars are an essential food source for many birds. It can take over 6,000 caterpillars to raise one nest of young! By favoring lawns and ornamental exotic plants at the expense of native plants, we've eliminated the primary food source for caterpillars. This leads to fewer insects and fewer birds.
Butterflies are also important pollinators. Pollinators help over 90 percent of the world's flowering plants create fruits and seeds. Without them, plant communities worldwide would collapse. Many people think of honey bees when they think of pollinators, but there are many different types of pollinators, including ants, bats, native bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, flies, moths, and wasps.
Many pollinators are in trouble because they do not have enough food or places to reproduce. You can help by planting pollinator-friendly species in your yard. Just look for the butterfly icon next to the species in the Native Plant Finder!
There are many other types of animals that live in cities and towns, including birds, frogs, salamanders, fish, and small mammals! By planting native plants, you can protect and restore wildlife habitat in your own yard and larger community. If we all created a little bit of habitat, animals would have the space to live together with us in our communities.
Some plant species are too thirsty to grow in a dry sidewalk area, while others will do just fine. Some plant species need full sun, but others will happily grow in shade. If you plant smart and pick the right place for the right plant, you create conditions that will help your garden thrive.
Native plants often do better because they are naturally adapted to the climate, rainfall, and soils of your region (collectively referred to as ecoregion), as long as you plant them in the conditions in which they are naturally found. The good news is that every region has a suite of native plants—some that need full sun, some shade; some that need dry soils, some wet; all with varying space requirements. There is a native plant for any condition in your landscape.
Trees are some of the best plants to help support wildlife. Butterflies and moths rely largely on trees as host plants for their caterpillars, which birds and other animals then rely on as a key food source.
Choosing the right species for the right spot is particularly important for trees. Trees live for decades or longer. When you plant a tree, you are creating a greener and healthier community for yourself, your children, and your grandchildren! Your tree will provide shade for future generations, so check out these planting instructions to help ensure that your tree lives a long and healthy life.
Also keep in mind that climate change is making many landscapes hotter and drier. The USDA hardiness zone maps help you know what your local conditions are like now and how they are changing with the climate. You can also learn more about how urban forests can help protect buffer cities from climate change.
Trees are an essential part of a sustainable urban or suburban landscape. They cool cities and towns by providing shade and moving water through their leaves. This increases energy efficiency in the summer and saves money. Trees capture air pollutants and provide you with a breath of fresh air, and they trap carbon dioxide, slowing the rate of climate change. During a storm, tree act like mini-reservoirs. They catch the water before it hits the ground, preventing flash floods and runoff.
If you choose native trees and plant them in the appropriate spot to meet their requirements, you’re also supporting the local wildlife in addition to all the other benefits of trees.
As more and more people move into cities, communities must plan for smart growth. Protecting and creating green space is an important way to improve the quality of city life. Whether it’s a tree, a park, a natural area, or your own backyard, experiencing nature improves human health and well-being. Are you interested in learning more? The U.S. Forest Service and the University of Washington have pulled together nearly 40 years of the scientific research here.
The U.S. Forest Service also provides decision tools to help communities manage their urban forests and plan for sustainable development.
When you use this site to get a list of native plants that support butterflies and birds in your zip code, some of them are species that aren’t yet available in retail nurseries or garden centers. These plant currently only grow in the wild. Never digs plants from the wild. Your local native plant society might cultivate these wild natives or can give you instructions on collecting seeds so you can grow them yourself. Some species aren’t ornamental enough for a planting in a garden, but are the perfect choices for large landscape ecological restorations done by professionals.
Many of the plants that this tool recommends are perfect choices for your wildlife-friendly garden and are currently cultivated and available via the garden nursery trade. If your local nursery does not have the species you want, check out these sites to find a native nursery or seed supplier.
We will be updating this list as the Native Plant Tool evolves.