Grow a weed and help a moth

1 March 2013

You should have got this post yesterday, but a twelve-hour power cut rather put paid to that. So, apologies for its late arrival – I hope it was worth waiting for.

Providing nectar plants for moths is something of an act of faith – unless you lurk around your garden late at night with a torch, you are unlikely to be know whether your restaurant is providing enticing fare or not. I admit I quite often creep round my garden with a torch around midnight, doing a combined slug and moth hunt, but what our soon-to-arrive new neighbours will make of that remains to be seen! However, if you provide foodplants for the caterpillars you might see the marks of their nibbling, or that some leaves have been pulled together with web: peel back the leaves very gently and you may find a small caterpillar in there – if you do, let it be.

Three moths. From left to right: Angle Shades, Muslin, Garden Tiger

Three moths. From left to right: Angle Shades, Muslin, Garden Tiger

There is an excellent book “Foodplant list for the caterpillars of Britain’s butterflies and larger moths” compiled by Tim Crafer and published by Atropos. It is what is says – a list, but there is no other publication which has pulled together all this information, and it can be easier to identify a caterpillar if you can start with the type of plant on which you found it.

One of the best thing the book does for me, is to provide an excuse for any weed that is growing in the garden: “Yes, there are quite a lot of brambles in the hedge, but they are the foodplant for over 58 species of moth and butterfly, so I can’t cut them back”.  I’ll list a few other “weeds” which are particularly good for caterpillars below

  • Docks – 92 species of butterfly and moth
  • Dandelion – 66
  • Chickweed – 57
  • Nettles – 35
  • Grounsel – 33
  • Couch grass – 24
  • Bindweed – 10
  • Cleavers (goosegrass) – 11

The moths pictured above all eat one or more of these “weeds” – so grow a weed and help a moth!


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