ABOUT THIS LIST … AND HOW TO USE IT      Link to list     How to download to your computer - see end of article

All plants are important, but some are much more useful to our local web of life. Greening Greenfield hopes this list will help you have fun learning about the important role of plants in your yard and community. Additionally, since we all have limited space and aesthetic preferences, hopefully it will help you make informed decisions about what to plant, or remove, to foster a healthy ecosystem.

The list was compiled in 2020 by Doug Tallamy, PhD for Greening Greenfield. Dr. Tallamy is an entomologist, professor, and behavioral ecologist, and the author of Bringing Nature Home (2009), The Living Landscape (2014) and Natures Best Hope (2020). His Homegrown National Park campaign encourages homeowners to shrink their lawn and plant with biodiversity in mind, which collectively will provide meaningful habitat.  Greening Greenfield then added various “sorts” and information about invasives.

[A note about interpreting Latin (scientific) names: the genus name refers to the general type of closely related plants (for example, oaks are the genus Quercus.) The species name is the specific plant in that genus, such as Quercus alba, or white oak. The plural of “genus” is “genera.” One confusing thing is that at the moment some plants are being reclassified as DNA data of plants is being discovered. For example, “Asters” are now two different genera. Do not despair!]

The list includes all genera of native plants that are in our area and notes how many species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) use plants as “host plants in each genus.” A Lepidopteran host plant is a plant upon which a butterfly or moth lays its eggs and which provides food for the caterpillars that hatch from those eggs.

Caterpillars grow by eating leaves of the host plant. Caterpillars are not only the young of butterflies and moths; they are also the major source of food for birds to raise their young. Caterpillars have been called a “keystone” species because they move resources in plants up the food chain. A keystone species is a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, such that if it were removed the ecosystem would change drastically. New England is host to over 2200 moth and butterfly species.

Doug Tallamy’s research has found that plants native to a region support many more native caterpillar species than non-native plants. In addition, Dr. Tallamy’s student, Desiree L. Narango PhD, found that for chickadees to find the 6,000-9,000 caterpillars that they need to successfully raise four chicks, over 70% of the plant foliage near their nest must be native to the region! This also helps explain why we rarely see much damage from native insects on our plants. Most of the damage we see is from non-native insects that have few predators or natural means of control. In general, most native plants have co-evolved alongside the insects and other animals that use them for their nectar, pollen, seeds, berries and more! Thus, plants that are not native to our area, especially those brought in from other countries, are generally not as useful to our native wildlife.


Genus: The plant genus is listed in the order of those hosting the most butterfly and moth species to the fewest. Browse it.

Native plant species within a genus have similar defenses against insect feeding. So, the insect species that have adapted to feed on one species within a plant genus, are able to feed on other plants within that genus (but they may have preferences). Remember that being native to our area is critically important! Species NOT native to our area do not host as many butterflies and moths. For example, a sugar maple hosts 271 species, but a Norway maple hosts only seven. A Gingko hosts zero.

When it comes to native plants, those hosting both large and small numbers of butterfly and moth species are important to biodiversity. Plants with highest use harbor mostly "generalist” Lepidoptera that lay eggs on many different native plants. Native plants that host only a few Lepidopteran species are critically important to the "specialists," who depend on them exclusively. For example, the monarch butterfly is a specialist that only lays its eggs on milkweeds. Milkweed is also a host to two other specialist Lepidopteran species. These species have adapted to be able to use milkweed despite its toxic sap, while other Lepidoptera avoid them. Although not covered in this spreadsheet, it is known that milkweed flowers provide nectar for a wide range of insect species.

Searching for Common names in the Spreadsheet... and Genus
If you know the common name of a plant you want to find more about, use the “Find” feature of the spreadsheet (control F) and enter that into the box in the upper right hand corner. If that name is in the spreadsheet it will find it. However, all common names are likely not listed. Another approach is to search on the web for the common name, discover it’s Latin name (genus and species), and look for that on this spreadsheet. We have also added a tab that is alpha sorted by Genus for your use.

To find a list of plant species native to our area within a given genus, check the generalized common name(s) listed next to the genus in the spreadsheet. For a more detailed list of species, go to the Native Plant Finder hosted by National Wildlife Federation, a photo-enhanced website featuring Doug Tallamy’s findings. To use the Native Plant Finder, a) enter your zip code, and b) enter the name of the genus (e.g. Quercus, Acer, etc.). A box will pop up with the list of species native to your area. You can also search on a specific butterfly or moth to learn which plants it lays its eggs on.

Tree? Shrub? Vine? Groundcover? 
We have added several tabs (look at the bottom of the screen) to make your search easier to find the plant form you are looking for. It turns out that in some cases a single woody genus may include trees, shrubs, vines, and/or groundcovers! So, don’t discount the idea of adding a plant to your yard from the genus “Prunus” because you don’t have space for a tree. You could find a large or small shrub form in the Prunus genus perfect for your yard! An entirely different tool with a similar name is The Native Plant Trust’s Plant Finder. It is the perfect tool to explore your options and learn about attributes of various species appropriate for landscaping purposes.

Invasives and weedy plants - Plant Species to Avoid
Note that some genera on the list include exotic, non-native plant species that are invasive and should not be planted. They could become problematic, especially if they spread to our natural areas. We have added a column that lists the species that are labeled invasive in Massachusetts by the Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group (MIPAG) and cannot be sold in our state. Nearby states’ invasive plant lists include additional species that would be safer to avoid (VT, NH, ME, RI, CT, NY).

In addition, there are invasive plants that are not listed in this excel spreadsheet, because they belong to a genus that is not native to Franklin County. If you would like to plant something that is not on this plant list, double check MIPAG to be sure it is not invasive to our area, or you could search on a plant name and add the word “invasive” to the search. The results can help you assess if a species may be risky to plant in your yard.

You may also recognize other native plants on this list as weedy. Although you probably wouldn’t want to add them to your yard (for instance ragweed and poison ivy) at least it is interesting to see that they serve a purpose about which you might not have been aware.

We encourage you to remove and replace invasive species in your yard. Mass Audubon has good photos of MA invasives to help you identify them, and recommendations on how to remove them by pulling and/or use of chemicals.

Making Decisions – What to plant? & Make your own list
We have added a tab to encourage you to take an inventory of your yard, assess it, and note what you would like to plant to support Lepidoptera. If you are familiar with spreadsheets we invite you to download it and play with it! You may also be interested in which plants are useful to birds and other wildlife, and to pollinators (in addition to Lepidoptera) such as beetles, ants, flies, and hummingbirds, or learn more about how you can support declining bumblebees. Finally, you will also want to determine which of these native plants fulfill other needs for your landscape (shade, privacy, color, etc.) and which would grow well with your specific soil, sunlight and moisture conditions. Explore Our favorite online tools to help you make decisions

 How to download the list to your computer
Double click on the spreadheet and it will take you to GoogleDocs where it is posted.
2. In the center top "open it-choose "Google Docs"
3. At the way top left click "file"
4. in the dropdown menu...choose "Microsoft Excel" or "Open document format" & check your download folder

© 2018 Greening Greenfield • c/o 34 Pierce St, Greenfield, MA 01301 • 603-477-3527 • Contact Us: info@greeninggreenfieldma.org