The favourite food plants of caterpillars of the Painted Lady Butterfly
Thistles supply nectar for butterflies, bees and other pollinators, producing more nectar per flower head than almost any other wildflower. But for the caterpillars of the Painted Lady butterfly they are also their main food source.
The female is not too choosy about the species she lays her eggs on. There are many different kinds of thistle found growing in Britain from the stately Spear Thistle and vanilla-scented Creeping Thistle to the much rarer Milk Thistle and Dwarf Thistle. The spines of the thistles protect against herbivores but its chemical defences are less effective against a wide range of invertebrates, from the leaf miners and stem borers that feed unseen within leaf and stem to the soldier beetles that stand guard over its flowers waiting for an unsuspecting insect to come along.
As well as its nectar being sought after by butterflies, its seeds are prized by goldfinches, which can be seen plucking them one by one from the flower heads with incredible speed and dexterity.
Thistles are attractive, easy to grow and multi-functional, so why wait!
INCREASE BIODIVERSITY BY GROWING THISTLES TO SUPPORT THE PAINTED LADY AND MANY OTHER INSECTS
PAINTED LADY Vanessa cardui
The female Painted Lady seeks out the leaves of thistles on which to lay her eggs.
MILK THISTLE Silybum marianum
Found growing wild, mainly in the south and Southeast of England, it makes a striking architectural plant in gardens. Its milky sap often features as a cure-all in alternative medicine.
WOOLLY THISTLE Cirsium eriophorum
See how attractive thistles are. It's well worth experimenting with different kinds in your garden. If you live in Scotland how can you not welcome several examples of the national emblem and the biodiversity associated with them into your garden.
GOLDFINCH Carduelis carduelis
It's not only butterflies that love thistles. Here is a Goldfinch in search of thistle seeds. If you leave the thistles in your garden to go to seed they will find them.
The seed heads of most flowers are an important winter resource for birds, so best left for our feathered friends rather than binned.
If you were wondering why a butterfly and a bird should have such similar sounding scientific names it does in fact derive from their association with thistles. Carduus is a genus of thistles that includes the Welted Thistle (Carduus crispus), the Slender Thistle (Carduus tenuiflorus) and the Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans).