Supporting the Threatened and Endangered: Butterflies


Seems Instagram and Facebook are filled with photos of Monarchs and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies on all types of colorful and not-so-colorful (Yes, Mountain Mint I am talking to you!) flowers this time of the year.


These fascination with butterflies inspired us to talk about some lesser know flying beauties that are struggling and the plants you can plant to help support their populations. Not all butterflies have the extraordinary PR and marketing that the Monarch does, so we figured we can raise some awareness.

Much of this information came from the Xerces website. More information about the butterflies mentioned below, and others, as well as conservation plans can be found on the Xerces Society website. Here is listed the Society’s Red List of Butterflies and Moths.  We focused on butterflies considered in peril in areas that include New Jersey and the tri-state area, but you can take a look at this list and see who you can help in your region. At this website you can also find out why these butterflies are imperiled.

As a reminder, butterflies are fairly non-selective feeders as adults but when it comes to raising their young and sustaining the next generation many have a specific plant relationship which means they need a particular species of plant to feed their young and if that plant is not in the area, their caterpillars will not be able to feed. Yes, yes – like the Monarch and the Milkweed.

Asclepias incarnata NMN

Asclepias incarnata

And as another reminder, habitat is often critical as well. Our first example the Argos skipper typically lives in undisturbed grasslands. Well, in our country undisturbed grasslands are also threatened or rare, so many developers seeing in these spaces the potential for strip malls or housing developments instead of noticing the current residents and understanding their value. So, it may be that even though you plant these plants, you may not see these butterflies. But if everyone starts adding these plants to their landscapes and creating little habitats, well, then we may have something.


The Argos Skipper relies on Big Bluestem and and Little Bluestem. We do not often think of grasses when we think butterfly conservation, but Atrytone arogos is an example of why we need to think beyond bright colorful flowers.

Plant American Beech to help out the Early Hairstreak.


Then leave your Daisy Fleabane to grow up in the wild places you don’t get to manage as often, while many think of this as a weed, the Early Hairstreak, Erora laeta, adults nectar from this plant as well as ox-eye daisy and steeplebush.

Frosted Elfin

The Frosted Elfin Callophrys irus prefers host plants in the pea family.

Baptisia tinctoria NMN

Baptisia australis, Blue False Indigo fits this bill and the Frosted Elfin has been documented using this plant as well as Baptisia tinctoria, Yellow Wild Indigo.  


Atlantic White Cedars are the host plant for the Hessel’s Hairstreak, Mitoura hesseli. So if you are in a swampy area or along a stream, plant some of these.  Your milkweed plantings for monarchs will also help this butterfly as this is one of the many plants favored by the adults.

Northern Metalmark, Kittantiny Valley St. Pk.

Northern Metalmark, Kittantiny Valley St. Pk.

Have you seen the Northern Metalmark? You are more likely to come across Calephelis borealis if you include Roundleaf Ragwort, Senecio obovatus, in your plantings.


If you have trouble finding this plant, it has been reported that Golden Ragwort, Senecio aureus, may be an alternative host plant. And since it is a great early season bloomer that is resistant to deer browse and fills in a space nice enough to exclude weeds and eliminate the need for mulch, why not give it a try? Keep those goldenrods around, plant some sneezeweeds, yarrow and black-eyed susans to keep the adults around your yard.



Like the Frosted Elfin, the Persius Duskywing, Erynnis persius persius, a type of Skipper, prefers plants in the Pea Family. (What’s the difference between a skipper, a butterfly and a moth?) Yellow Wild Indigo is one of the go-tos for the larvae of this species as well. The other, as in the case of the Frosted Elfin is Perennial Lupine, Lupinus perennis.

Rare Skipper

The Rare Skipper, Problema bulenta, is so rare, scientists are not exactly sure about its habitat and host plant. They have deduced is prefers brackish river marshes and that its host plant is Spartina cynosuroides, Big Cordgrass.


Can you believe some people think Violets are weeds? Honestly! The Regal Fritillary, Speyeria idalia, does not. Leave any of the violets you have and plant more, plant lots of species, because when it comes to violets this butterfly is not choosy.  Common Meadow Violet, Viola sororia, Striped Cream Violet, Viola striata and even the Silver Gem Violet, Viola walteri ‘Silver Gem’ would all be great support for this beauty.

It’s interesting, the Monarch does not make the Xerces Society’s Redlist for imperiled butterflies and moths. But keep planting milkweed, you will notice that many butterflies use it for a nectar source, and you will support Monarch caterpillars as well.

Have you seen any of these? Where and on what plants? Have you planted these and had success in supporting these butterflies on the brink?

Photos of Butterflies from:

North American Butterfly Association


Butterflies and Moths of North America



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