Summary: Spatial-temporal realism is often missing in many studies of multitrophic interactions, which are conducted at a single time frame and/or involving interactions between insects with a single species of plant. In this scenario, an underlying assumption is that the host-plant species is ubiquitous throughout the season and that the insects always interact with it. We studied interactions involving three naturally occurring wild species of cruciferous plants, Brassica rapa, Sinapis arvensis and Brassica nigra, that exhibit different seasonal phenologies, and a multivoltine herbivore, the large cabbage white butterfly, Pieris brassicae, and its gregarious endoparasitoid wasp, Cotesia glomerata. The three plants have very short life cycles. In central Europe, B. rapa grows in early spring, S. arvensis in late spring and early summer, and B. nigra in mid to late summer. P. brassicae generally has three generations per year, and C. glomerata at least two. This means that different generations of the insects must find and exploit different plant species that may differ in quality and which may be found some distance from one another. Insects were either reared on each of the three plant species for three successive generations or shifted between generations from B. rapa to S. arvensis to B. nigra. Development time from neonate to pupation and pupal fresh mass were determined in P. brassicae and egg-to-adult development time and body mass in C. glomerata. Overall, herbivores performed marginally better on S. arvensis and B. nigra plants than on B. rapa plants. Parasitoids performance was closely tailored with that of the host. Irrespective as to whether the insects were shifted to a new plant in successive generations or not, development time of P. brassicae and C. glomerata decreased dramatically over time. Our results show that there were some differences in insect development on different plant species and when transferred from one species to another. However, all three plants were of generally high quality in terms of insect performance. We discuss ecological and evolutionary constraints on insects that must search in new habitats for different plant species over successive generations. © 2013 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology © 2013 British Ecological Society.