5 Common Trees and the Butterflies They Support

In Kansas and Nebraska, especially in the eastern portions of the states, you can find the following 5 trees quite commonly: Pawpaw, Black Cherry, Eastern Red Cedar, Hackberry, and Willow. These 5 trees support a large variety of insects, from butterflies and moths to beetles and bees. When you find these in your existing woodlands or landscapes, try to leave some for the pollinators they support. 

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly is found where there are large stands of pawpaws

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a tropical looking tree that usually grows in large clumps of multiple stems. It has small, fragrant but not sweet smelling flowers in early spring followed by large greenish fruit that matures in autumn. The fruit is about the size of a small russet potato and tastes like a banana mango cross. They are the host for the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly, among some moths and other insects. 

Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar on black cherry

Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) is a very common tree in our woodlands. The wood from this tree is used for furniture and flooring. The bark is very pretty and the flowers are fragrant in spring. Fall color is a rich orange-red. They host a variety of insects, especially the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

Juniper hairstreak butterflies are common near windbreaks of red cedar

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) can be a nuisance tree as well as a good tree for windbreaks and is often a specimen tree in cemeteries and old farmsteads. It is a host for pests like bagworms but also for pollinators such as the Juniper Hairstreak butterfly. 

This hackberry is located at the Brown County courthouse in Hiawatha, KS
The Question Mark Butterfly is one of several that utilizes the hackberry

Common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) is one of the most under-used landscape trees available, commonly overlooked due to nipple galls, a frequent problem that ruins the overall leaf appearance. However, this tree is common on woodlands and can live for a very long time. One of the largest in Kansas is one the Brown County courthouse lawn. It is host to a wide range of insects, but especially the American Snout butterfly, Hackberry Emperor butterfly, Tawny Emperor butterfly, Mourning Cloak butterfly, and Question Mark butterfly. 

A large black willow tree in eastern Kansas
The red spotted purple butterfly uses black willow and others as a host plant

Black Willow (Salix nigra) and other willows in Kansas and Nebraska favor wetlands but can be quite drought tolerant. Find these trees near streams, lakes, ditches, and ponds. You will likely notice their red and orange stems and buds in winter and early spring. They host a wide range of pollinators and insects including the Viceroy butterfly and Red Spotted Purple butterfly. 


So learn these trees and add them to your landscape (if you have none) to help feed pollinators and their larvae!


Happy planting!

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