Moth Gardening host plants and pollination plants

Planning an evening garden in Southeast Pennsylvania and want to attract moths with heavily scented plants that open at night.

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Consider taking a look at https://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/data/hostplants/search/index.dsml

I’m also in SEPA, so I hope you’ll share what you pick!

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Have a look at Pollinators of Native Plants as well, it’s organized by plant and is North American in scope. The author is also active on iNat https://inaturalist.ca/people/heatherholm

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And welcome to the forum! Don’t you just love this community? So helpful. :-). Thanks for links @dkaposi @michaelpirrello! And I can’t wait to see moth observations from your soon-to-be garden!

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If you’re planting for moths, I’d also recommend planting trees and other plants that are host plants for the species. The adults need flowers for pollination, but the adults won’t exist if there’s nothing for the caterpillars to eat in the area! This website will tell you which plants support the most moth caterpillars in your region, in most of North America it’s native oaks, cherries, and willows: https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/
Here’s a great video on the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wzcz8dWyBc

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Welcome to the forum, @Heidi!

Not necessarily night-opening flowers but very popular with the adult plusiine loopers are my runner beans which have plentiful flowers. stuff not yet mentioned: Goldenrod, asters, milkweeds and native viburnums are great as both hosts for larvae and nectar sources for the adult moths. Stuff to consider: not all adult moths are nocturnal some nectar happily during the day, others never eat as adults and are mainly looking to procreate, some adults don’t even have wings to fly! While the macro moths are cool you’re really going to be wowed if you spend some close-up time with the micros many of whom make fantastic leaf mines (morning glory leafminer is common and neat!) or rolls, plus they really need more attention citizen science wise. Other suggestions for garden design around specific species might be to consult a field guide with a host plant index (Caterpillars of Eastern North America, for example) and decide who you are interested in prioritizing. Before you begin planting you may want to sample what’s already there too and see if you can’t increase native habitat to support more biodiversity. My answer to everything, including attracting moths, is: Biodiversity! and Don’t mow things! You’ll soon be inundated with awesomeness. I heartily second upupa-epops’ suggestion to consider all levels and types of plants and life stages also-Oaks, cherries and willows (and walnuts!) oh my! Not sure what your level of experience or interest is but it you do want to learn more about host plants for certain leaf-mining moths check out this fantastic blog by naturalist and iNaturalist, Charley Eiseman. Good luck, keep us posted!

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In case anyone is keen for more reading material on the topic of moths’ role as pollintors, a team of British researchers published a paper earlier this year in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters. The article details research on pollination of wild flowers in an agricultural setting in Norfolk (the original one, not the one on the Lake Erie shore…). Apparently, moths’ hairy abdomens are under-researched as pollen transport vectors. From the abstract:

“Here, we report that in agricultural landscapes, macro-moths can provide unique, highly complex pollen transport links, making them vital components of overall wild plant–pollinator networks in agro-ecosystems. Pollen transport occurred more frequently on the moths’ ventral thorax rather than on their mouthparts that have been traditionally targeted for pollen swabbing. Pollen transport loads suggest that nocturnal moths contribute key pollination services for several wild plant families in agricultural landscapes, in addition to providing functional resilience to diurnal networks. Severe declines in richness and abundance of settling moth populations highlight the urgent need to include them in future management and conservation strategies within agricultural landscapes.”

For those looking for new reading material, there are dozens of references in the article that may be of interest.

Here are two news articles on the research, from the BBC and from CNN.

If you have the space, the single best thing to do may be to plant a native tree, with oaks and cherries leading the way as noted above. There is a quote in this article New Research Further Proves Native Plants Offer More Bugs for Birds about the number of species supported by several tree families:

" For example, the list holds that some oaks have up to 534 species of moths and butterflies (recently updated to 557); Prunus like wild cherry and plum can yield up to 456 species; and maples support up to 297 species."

And while I knew that birds relied on caterpillars as a food source, another quote in the same article gave a surprisingly large quantum “…it may take 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars in a season to raise a brood of five [Caronlina] chickadees…”

At the other end of the spectrum, almost any native plant that you purchase locally will host some butterfly or moth (along with many other other species), with many plants also providing nectar opportunities.

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Yup! Polyphemus moths are the ones I know of (and are apparently in SE PA), but I’m sure there are others.

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