Host Plants

Host Plants


South African Butterfly Breeding Association (SABBA) provides individuals, conservation groups and butterfly enthusiasts with the following recommendations: The proposal of nurseries; The involvement of garden services; The starting of awareness programs of the environment with your local communities; A program to enrich the local environment.

Garden Services

Nurseries should encourage all local ‘garden services’ to help their clients invest in indigenous plants. This will enhance their garden to accommodate various species endemic to their areas. Maybe then one day, to the surprise of the locals, butterflies, birds and even smaller mammal species would be seen again in the neighbourhood. This is the beginning of replacing what our communities have been losing for centuries.

The Local Communities

The local community have a big role to play, in getting the environment of their local area’s to take notice of this desperate situation. Enhancing indigenous vegetation and trees is the ‘first step’ in developing the environment. That is the practical solution that sets the symbiotic relationships between the environment, its related species and forming an ecosystem that will enrich the area and its community. It takes an awareness of these facts to re-establish our environment with a dedication to develop the natural habitation. Therefore the need for relocation of natural vegetation, endemic species and the propagation of these related species will bring back our natural resources. The benefit is that property values will increase and the local environment will begin to look better.

Bringing back the Environment


By releasing butterflies at a wedding, a funeral, birthday party or a business function, makes others aware of butterflies or moths. By collecting and breeding butterflies, the scientific community is able to provide expert advice. By acquiring indigenous vegetation and plants for homes and gardens will involve the environment and increase species development. Such is the position of our local communities, to choose between making or breaking our ecosystems for better or worse.

What Plants do I need? (For breeding butterflies in captivity or in the local environment)

The plants needed to breed butterflies are essentially indigenous vegetation, plants, flowers and trees. This list would be made specifically for the moths and butterfly species that you wish to breed, which is combined with the feeding flowers and natural habitat required. Using plants for specific insect species can create a natural habitat in which they would reside. Taking into consideration that these species do naturally occur in the locality you reside in. Courses are provided for the breeding of both butterflies and moths bred in captivity or in the created environment or natural habitats. See Butterfly Host Plant List.

Where do I get these Plants?

All nurseries should be able to provide general information and host plant lists. However, it is alarming to establish that very few nurseries have any idea of what you are talking about. Many of these plants can be bought directly from individual plant propagators.

What Value do Plants have?


Many plants are rather expensive, due to the availability and durability of plants provided by propagators. The price of individual plants can range from R20.00 e.g. Asclepia fruiticosa to as much as R200 per tree,   – eg. Mareua reflexa. Many of the more expensive plants are fairly rare, hard to propagate or also known as hard woods. This is due to the time it takes to grow them, which is up to five years to get a good one meter tall tree. Many of the soft wood trees will take up to 18 months to grow to a good one meter tree.

How do I care for these Plants?


Caring for your host plants is just the same as caring for a good investment. By purchasing indigenous plants, whether you are a butterfly, moth or beetle enthusiast or not, is an investment you make in conserving an indigenous plant for future generations to see and appreciate. All indigenous trees are protected according to the NEMA act of 2004 and may not be removed from any property, unless the tree becomes a danger to property or the health of individuals. Then a permit must be obtained from your local municipality environmental officer or from your local wildlife conservation officer, WESSA. Firstly, you should have reasonably good compost, which can be bought at any nursery. But the best compost is home made. All the grass cuttings that you have collected from mowing the lawn and any other vegetation matter that you have from trimming trees or shrubs is important. Find as much indigenous bark as you can and mix this into the vegetation matter you have collected. Put all these in a heap somewhere and cover with some soil. Wet from time to time with water. The compost mixture will start decaying and cause tremendous heat within itself. Plants thrive on this form of compost and many nutrients and fungus chemicals are released. The bark releases many forms of iron chemicals to enrich the compost. Use this compost when replanting plants in your garden, by simply placing some of this compost in the hole you have made for the planting. The compost must be at least 100 mm thick. Place the plant on top of this compost and cover the remaining hole with soil. Water only every second day for two weeks. Do not water the plant as it can drown.

Host Plants and Habitats


A host plant (also referred to as food plant) is the plant on which the female butterfly lays her eggs and which serves as a source of food for the developing larvae. Host plants are as diversified and various as the butterflies that exist. In general, each butterfly species has a single host plant; quite a few species though, do breed and feed on more than one species of plant. An obvious relationship exists between food plants and butterflies. Butterfly species that have more than one food plant, or feed on food plants that occur in abundance or have a wide-ranging distribution, are more common and/or widely distributed. Species that feed on rare host plants, or those that occur in specific habitats will form isolated colonies in specific locations.

Butterflies are known to breed on a variety of grasses, weeds, shrubs, large trees and even parasitic plants such as the mistletoe, which depends on its host for water and minerals. Finding the host plant of a species of butterfly is relatively easy; follow a female at a discreet distance and it will eventually lead you to the food plant. Depending on the species, host plants and therefore butterflies, can be found in a variety of habitats such as forests, wetlands, and mountainous areas and along river banks, savannahs, grasslands, etc.
Successful breeding and survival of a species is dependent on (or relative to) the success of the habitat in meeting the species’ unique requirements. These requirements include an adequate food supply and appropriate climate. For example, a forest fire could lead to the destruction of rare host plants and the elimination of the food supply, which in turn will result in the extinction of the butterfly species that breed and feed on these plants. Through the process of adaptation, some of the very common and widely distributed butterflies are able to feed on different types of food plants and survive in dissimilar climatic conditions.

Introducing the Butterfly


Once the butterfly garden is complete with the plants you desire and everything is growing well, you need to start looking for butterflies. Some butterfly species will find the plants of their own accord. Other butterflies will have to be relocated to your garden. For these butterflies you will have to contact the South African Butterfly Breeding Association (SABBA) and order these butterflies from them. They can be contacted by email; Email your order to them and they will supply you with the female butterflies that you require.
When you receive the butterfly, it is necessary to introduce the butterfly to the host plant as soon as you can. Sleeves are used when introducing butterflies to their host plants. You can use a ladies stocking and pull this over a branchlet, with many leaves. Place the butterfly inside the stocking and seal with a piece of string. The butterfly will then lay her eggs on the plant. Leave the sleeve on the plant until you see that the caterpillars are at least three centimetres long. Remove the sleeve carefully and allow the caterpillars to continue with their life cycle.

Private Nurseries

Many private nurseries are started every year by individuals who care for the environment. A few gardening bags, seedlings and plants, starts a person off with a ‘private nursery’. Plants can be obtained from them easily by emailing and we will give you a list of ‘private nurseries’ in your area