Types of Plants Caterpillars Eat

Updated November 21, 2016

Gardeners may want to attract butterflies to their garden, and the best way to attract butterflies is to plant foliage that caterpillars like to eat, called host plants. This will encourage butterflies to frequent the garden and lay eggs. The caterpillars will remain in the garden until they change into butterflies. There are many types of plant that caterpillars eat, but gardeners should be prepared to have them damaged by the caterpillars.

Fruits and Vegetables

Leaves from vegetable plants and fruits, including fruit trees, are relished by some species of caterpillars. Caterpillars such as the giant swallowtail, eastern tiger swallowtail, viceroy, red-spotted purple, grey hairstreak, tailed blue and spring azure enjoy eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, including carrots, fennel, cabbage, alfalfa, broccoli, peas, beans, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, citrus and apples. Some caterpillars only like one type of fruit or vegetable, such as the zebra swallowtail, which only eats the pawpaw fruit.


Strong, aromatic herbs such as anise, parsley and dill are host plants for butterflies, because caterpillars like to eat them. The type of plant depends on the type of caterpillar, and caterpillars that enjoy the aforementioned herbs include the anise swallowtail and the eastern black swallowtail.


Caterpillars such as the spicebush swallowtail, great spangled fritillary, green comma, painted lady, buckeye and clouded sulphur eat flowers and flowering plants such as clover, passionflower, mallows, daisies, azaleas, violets and sassafras.


One of the most iconic and recognisable butterflies, the monarch, begins as a caterpillar that only eats milkweed. Milkweed gets its name from the milky-like liquid that seeps out of the plant when it breaks, and milkweed can be identified by its large pods that are filled with feathery seeds. Monarch butterfly caterpillars are also very recognisable, and are brightly coloured with yellow, white and black stripes.

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