Plants that butterflies like

Monarch Butterfly

The Life Cycle(s) of a Monarch Butterfly

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Monarch butterflies go through four stages during one life cycle, and through four generations in one year. It’s a little confusing but keep reading and you will understand. The four stages of the monarch butterfly life cycle are the egg, the larvae (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly. The four generations are actually four different butterflies going through these four stages during one year until it is time to start over again with stage one and generation one.
In February and March, the final generation of hibernating monarch butterflies comes out of hibernation to find a mate. They then migrate north and east in order to find a place to lay their eggs. This starts stage one and generation one of the new year for the monarch butterfly.
In March and April the eggs are laid on milkweed plants. They hatch into baby caterpillars, also called the larvae. It takes about four days for the eggs to hatch. Then the baby caterpillar doesn’t do much more than eat the milkweed in order to grow. After about two weeks, the caterpillar will be fully-grown and find a place to attach itself so that it can start the process of metamorphosis. It will attach itself to a stem or a leaf using silk and transform into a chrysalis. Although, from the outside, the 10 days of the chrysalis phase seems to be a time when nothing is happening, it is really a time of rapid change. Within the chrysalis the old body parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a remarkable transformation, called metamorphosis, to become the beautiful parts that make up the butterfly that will emerge. The monarch butterfly will emerge from the pupa and fly away, feeding on flowers and just enjoying the short life it has left, which is only about two to six weeks. This first generation monarch butterfly will then die after laying eggs for generation number two.
The second generation of monarch butterflies is born in May and June, and then the third generation will be born in July and August. These monarch butterflies will go through exactly the same four stage life cycle as the first generation did, dying two to six weeks after it becomes a beautiful monarch butterfly.

The fourth generation of monarch butterflies is a little bit different than the first three generations. The fourth generation is born in September and October and goes through exactly the same process as the first, second and third generations except for one part. The fourth generation of monarch butterflies does not die after two to six weeks. Instead, this generation of monarch butterflies migrates to warmer climates like Mexico and California and will live for six to eight months until it is time to start the whole process over again.
It is amazing how the four generations of monarch butterflies works out so that the monarch population can continue to live on throughout the years, but not become overpopulated. Mother Nature sure has some cool ways of doing things, doesn’t she?

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Create Habitat for Monarchs

Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. With shifting land management practices, we have lost much milkweed from the landscape.

Please plant milkweed to support monarch populations, and their incredible migration! Planting milkweed is a great way to help other pollinators too, as they provide valuable nectar resources to a diverse suite of bees and butterflies. For a brief how-to flyer on planting and gardening, download MJV’s Gardening for Monarchs.

Adult monarchs will drink the nectar of many flowers in addition to milkweed; in fact they need sources of nectar to nourish them throughout the entire growing season. Include a variety of native flowering species with different bloom times to provide monarchs with the food they need to reproduce in the spring and summer and to migrate in the fall. Offering a wide array of native nectar plants will attract monarchs and many other butterflies and pollinators to your habitat all season long.

Find appropriate native monarch nectar plants for your region using the Xerces Society’s Monarch Nectar Guides. You can also check with local native plant nurseries or greenhouses for their recommendations of good pollinator plants for your area.

Key Habitat Considerations

  • Habitat can be created in any open space protected from untimely mowing or pesticide application.
  • Native milkweeds provide food for monarch caterpillars.
  • Native flowers provide food for adult butterflies. A combination of early, middle and late blooming species, with overlap in flowering times, will fuel butterfly breeding and migration and provide beautiful blooms season-long.
  • Insecticides should never be used in or surrounding pollinator habitat. Limit use of herbicides within and surrounding the habitat only to control invasive or noxious weeds.

Selecting Plants For Butterfly Eggs – Best Plants For Attracting Butterflies

Butterfly gardening has become popular in recent years. Butterflies and other pollinators are finally being recognized for the important role they play in ecology. Gardeners all over the world are creating safe habitats for butterflies. With the right plants, you can create your own butterfly garden. Read on to learn more about the best plants for attracting butterflies and butterfly host plants.

Best Plants for Attracting Butterflies

To create a butterfly garden, you’ll need to select an area in full sun and sheltered from high winds. This area should be designated only for butterflies and should not have birdhouses, baths or feeders in it. However, butterflies do like to bathe themselves and drink from shallow puddles of water, so it helps to add a small shallow butterfly bath and feeder. This can be a small dish or a bowl shaped rock placed on the ground.

Butterflies also like to sun themselves on dark rocks or reflective surfaces, like gazing balls. This helps heat up and dry out their wings so they can fly properly. Most importantly, never use pesticides in a butterfly garden.

There are many plants and weeds that attract butterflies. Butterflies have good vision and are attracted to large groups of brightly colored flowers. They are also attracted to strong scented flower nectar. Butterflies tend to favor plants with flower clusters or large flowers so that they can land safely for a while sucking the sweet nectar out.

Some of the best plants for attracting butterflies are:

  • Butterfly Bush
  • Joe Pye Weed
  • Caryopteris
  • Lantana
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Cosmos
  • Shasta Daisy
  • Zinnias
  • Coneflower
  • Bee Balm
  • Flowering Almond

Butterflies are active from spring until frost, so pay attention to plant bloom times so they will able to enjoy nectar from your butterfly garden all season.

Selecting Plants for Butterfly Eggs

As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said in The Little Prince, “Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars, if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.” It is not enough to just have plants and weeds that attract butterflies. You will also need to include plants for butterfly eggs and larvae in your butterfly garden too.

Butterfly host plants are the specific plants that butterflies lay their eggs on or near so that their caterpillar larvae can eat the plant before forming its chrysalis. These plants are basically sacrificial plants that you add to the garden and allow the caterpillars to feast on and grow into healthy butterflies.

During butterfly egg laying, the butterfly will flit around to different plants, landing on different leaves and testing them out with its olfactory glands. Once finding the right plant, the female butterfly will lay her eggs, usually on the undersides of leaves but sometimes under loose bark or in mulch near the host plant. Butterfly egg laying depends on the type of butterfly, as do the butterfly host plants. Below is a list of common butterflies and their preferred host plants:

  • Monarch – Milkweed
  • Black Swallowtail – Carrots, Rue, Parsley, Dill, Fennel
  • Tiger Swallowtail – Wild Cherry, Birch, Ash, Poplar, Apple Trees, Tulip Trees, Sycamore
  • Pipevine Swallowtail – Dutchman’s Pipe
  • Great Spangled Fritillary – Violet
  • Buckeye – Snapdragon
  • Mourning Cloak – Willow, Elm
  • Viceroy – Pussy Willow, Plums, Cherry
  • Red Spotted Purple – Willow, Poplar
  • Pearl Crescent, Silvery Checkerspot – Aster
  • Gorgone Checkerspot – Sunflower
  • Common Hairstreak, Checkered Skipper – Mallow, Hollyhock
  • Dogface – Lead Plant, False Indigo (Baptisia) , Prairie Clover
  • Cabbage White – Broccoli, Cabbage
  • Orange Sulphur – Alfalfa, Vetch, Pea
  • Dainty Sulphur – Sneezeweed (Helenium)
  • Painted Lady – Thistle, Hollyhock, Sunflower
  • Red Admiral – Nettle
  • American Lady – Artemisia
  • Silvery Blue – Lupine

After hatching from their eggs, caterpillars will spend their entire larval stage eating the leaves of their host plants until they are ready to make their chrysalis and become butterflies. Some butterfly host plants are trees. In these cases, you can try dwarf varieties of fruit or flowering trees or simply locate your butterfly garden near one of these larger trees.

With the proper balance of plants and weeds that attract butterflies and butterfly host plants, you can create a successful butterfly garden.

An architectural giant that thrives in moist conditions, hollow stem Joe Pye weed attracts large butterflies, often in large numbers. Joe Pye weed is at home in the back of the border or mixed in among shrubs. After flowering, bronze colored seed heads persist into winter.

Importance as a caterpillar food source: Hollow stem Joe Pye weed is not used as a caterpillar food source.

Importance as a butterfly nectar source:
Large flower clusters that reach 18 inches across provide ample amounts of nectar for a wide variety of butterflies.

The current rating for hollow Joe Pye weed is:

Garden Rating Nectar Rating Caterpillar Rating
2 3 0

If you have experience growing hollow Joe Pye weed, we would like your opinion. Let us know how it performed in your butterfly garden. Your comments will help other butterfly gardeners in your region to create better butterfly gardens:

Hollow Stem Joe Pye Weed Cultural Requirements

USDA Hardiness Zone 4 to 8
Bloom Period July to September
Bloom Color Pale rose
Plant Height 4 to 8 feet
Plant Spread 2 to 4 feet
Light Exposure Sun to part shade
Soil Moisture Wet to average
Animal/Disease Problems None

Joe Pye Weed
Eupatorium Purpureum
Butterfly Nectar Plant

Joe Pye Weed is a stunning plant for your butterfly garden. It will definitely draw people’s attention simply by its size, but also its beauty.

It is very easy to grow and butterflies are attracted to the plentiful nectar it produces…especially Monarchs and Swallowtails…two of our largest species here in the U.S. and Canda.

There are several species of this plant, but the most common is the Eupatorium Purpureum.

Important facts about Eupatorium Purpureum:

  • Height 4 – 8 feet
  • Width 3 – 4 feet
  • Grows in full sun to part shade
  • Soil requirements – likes a moist situation, but mine does just fine in average soil
  • Favorite butterfly nectar plant
  • Blooms from July to September
  • Flowers are large and showy, each head having 5 – 7 florets….mauve pink in color and have a delicious, vanilla scent
  • This plant has no serious disease or insect problems…..leaves can scorch if the plant doesn’t get enough moisture
  • Slow to come up in the Spring…then the strong stems grow very quickly
  • Native to Midwestern and Eastern U.S. and Southern Canada
  • Cut the plant to the ground in late Fall or early Spring

Since this is such a large species (right plant in photo, which is not even full grown), placement should be in the back of your border.

In an island bed, place it toward the center.

Make sure and leave plenty of room for it to grow.

Eupatorium Purpureum transplants easily after it is established if you would like to share some with fellow gardeners.

Joe Pye Weed Seeds and Plants

Here are seeds and plants available for purchase of this top butterfly flower.

Interesting Folklore:

  • Joe Pye Weed is said to have gotten its name from a Native American Indian, Joe Pye, who used the plant to cure Typhus.
  • Tea made from this plant is used as alternative medicine for fever, urinary tract problems, rheumatism…among other things.
  • Dried, burned leaves are said to repel flies.
  • Hollow stems have been used for straws.

The word Eupatorium comes from the Greek King of Pontas, Mithridates VI Eupator (132-63BC). He used one species of this plant as an antidote for poison. Purpureum comes from the Latin word for “purple”.

Tag Archives: Joe-Pye Weed

One of the surest ways to see fall-migrating Monarch butterflies is to plant flowers that attract them. Monarchs will drop from the sky for the nectar they need for energy during fall migrations.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) on Lantana (Lantana camara). Photo courtesy Tiago J. G. Fernandes. Used with permission.

The Monarchs will search for nectar plants the entire time they are traveling to their winter roosting sites in Mexico. Gardens can provide a place for the migrating monarchs so they can refuel and continue their journey. Help Monarchs by planting flowers that bloom late into the fall such as the flowers listed below.

Asters (Aster spp.) are a favorite of Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) in the fall, particularly the New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae).

Monarch nectaring on Aster.

Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), including Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) and Swamp Sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius) are late bloomers and provide nectar for migrating Monarchs.

Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia)

Monarch nectaring on Swamp Sunflower. Photo courtesy LuGene Peterson. Used with permission.

Many Lantanas are still blooming. I had several Monarchs stop in late October in my North Carolina, USA, garden to sip the nectar from ‘Miss Huff’ Lantana (Lantana camara ‘Miss Huff’)

Monarch butterfly nectaring on ‘Miss Huff’ Lantana.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) is a wonderful fall blooming perennial and is one of the major nectar sources for the Monarchs’ trip back to Mexico.

The brilliant purple-crimson bloom of Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) is very attractive to Monarchs. See some spectacular photos of Monarchs on Ironweed at the Flower Hill Farm Retreat.

Monarch sampling Ironweed nectar.

Other great nectar flowers to plant for fall-migrating Monarchs include
Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).

Monarch butterfly goes to work on a Purple Coneflower in the garden.

Autumn Joy Stonecrop (Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’) burst into bloom in fall. If left standing, they provide winter interest and food for birds.

Migrating Monarchs stop by the Flower Hill Farm Retreat to feed on the blooms on “Autumn Joy” Sedum. Photo courtesy Carol Ann Duke. Used with permission.

Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)

Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

The Monarchs flock to the Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum).

Joe Pye Weed, Monarch Butterfly

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Photo by the Insects of Northern Ontario

What Types of Flowers Do Butterflies Eat?

butterfly image by pearlguy from

Some flowers get all the luck. Not only do they look and often smell nice, but many of them also attract butterflies, the most beautiful of all winged insects. Since butterflies usually migrate long distances, they require frequent feeding stopovers. Flowers, particularly their nectar, are vital to these fragile animals. Conservation groups encourage people to plant butterfly gardens because some species are in decline. Luckily, there are many flowering plants that butterflies like.

Butterfly Bush

It should come as no surprise that a cultivar named after butterflies attracts the insects. According to, this plant is a favorite food source of butterflies. The honey-scented blossoms, tightly clustered on stem ends, come in shades of purple, magenta, white and pink. Butterfly Gardeners’ Quarterly states that more than 100 cultivars are grown.

Butterfly Weed

As it’s name suggests, Butterfly weed is also excellent at drawing butterflies to it because of its nectar abundance. Also called orange milkweed, this plant is native to North America and is drought tolerant. It grows well in full sun and in places like rock gardens, according to Texas A&M University Horticulture Department.

Purple Coneflower

Purple Coneflower is a hardy prairie flower, considered an herb, that blooms prolifically even during hot, dry spells. The petals come in yellow, white and pink shades as well. It is easy to grow and, with its height of up to 2 ½ feet, mixes well with shorter and taller butterfly-attracting plants.


Hibiscus, Hawaii’s state flower, is a tropical and semi-tropical perennial with big, showy flowers that are also favorites of hummingbirds. The American Hibiscus Society explains that buds come in many colors, from stark white to reds bordering on black.


People aren’t alone in their fondness for lavender. Butterflies like it’s fragrant scent too, particularly the sweet nectar that can be drawn from the small, light purple flowers. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, lavender’s scent is emitted from the oil contained in the flowers.


Lilac bushes bloom briefly in the spring, eliciting one of the better fragrances nature has to offer. Butterflies like them, too. Lilacs bloom in shades of white, purple, blue, magenta and violet, according to the International Lilac Society.

New England Aster

This plant prefers moist, rich soil and full sun. The Texas A&M University Horticulture Department states it is a hardy perennial native to northeastern U.S. Flowers are rosy lilac to deep purple and are perched on stiff, hairy stems 2 to 6 feet tall. They are also later bloomers than some other flowers that butterflies like, appearing from August through October.

Wildlife Gardening Journal

You might be surprised by some of the plants that serve as host plants for swallowtails. My previous house had a huge, mature lilac in the front yard. Every year in early spring, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails visited it. Swallowtails are the superstars of butterfly world: Huge, strikingly colored, they always lift my spirits when I see them. In fact, the first butterflies I photographed were those swallowtails on my lilac bush (see photo).

Because of that association, I’ve planted four lilacs on my current property. These shrubs are still too small to produce more than a flower or two, but someday I hope they’ll be a butterfly magnet.

I didn’t know it back then, but common lilacs are a host plant (food source for caterpillars) for Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, so it wasn’t too surprising that they attracted the attention of that particular species. The females may well have been laying eggs.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails will lay their eggs on other plants as well, including:

– Ash trees

– Cottonwoods

– Tulip poplars/tulip trees

– Wild black cherries

– Willows

– Other members of the Magnoliaceae and Rosaceae families.

Western Tiger Swallowtails look similar to their eastern counterparts. Their host plant list is very similar, but adds Quaking Aspen.

You’ll notice that I just listed a lot of trees. Many swallowtails lay their eggs on trees and shrubs. Zebra swallowtails use PawPaw species, for example. Keep that in mind if you see caterpillars eating the leaves of your favorite tree. You might try to identify them before applying pesticides, if you like having swallowtails around. (You can take a picture of your caterpillars and submit it to the website, Butterflies and Moths of North America, and they will identify them for you.)

Here are some other trees that serve as host plants for swallowtails, although this list is not comprehensive:

– Citrus family

– Angelica trees

– Laurel family

– Buckthorn

– Coffeeberry

– Hop Tree

– Magnolia

– Torchwood

– Camphor tree

While you may not be interested in planting trees for swallowtails (a very long-term investment), fear not! It is easy to attract several different swallowtails species with just four different plants:

– Dill

– Fennel

– Parsley

– Rue

I planted Bronze Fennel for the first time last spring, and I found Black Swallowtail caterpillars on it in summer. It was the first time I’d seen Black Swallowtails in the yard.

Before planting the Fennel, I tried Rue in a flower bed. That same spring I saw my first Giant Swallowtail nectaring on Garden Phlox in the same bed.

It never ceases to amaze me how you can plant one plant, and the appropriate butterfly will find it. This year I am adding Parsley and Dill to my garden.

Other host plants for swallowtails include:

– Anise

– Caraway

– Carrot

– Celery

– Milkweed

– Pipevine (Dutchman’s Pipe)

– Spicebush

– Sassafras

– Tarragon

– Thistle

– Queen Anne’s Lace

I planted native Pipevine in my yard last fall, and I’m waiting to see if it survived the winter. My soil may be a little too poor and dry for it, but I enriched the soil and planted it in a part-shade spot that’s easy to water. I planted a native species because Tropical Pipevines may be toxic to swallowtail caterpillars. If it survives and does well, I hope it will be discovered by a species of swallowtail I haven’t seen in my yard yet: the Pipevine Swallowtail. I’ll let you know if that happens.

On a final, unrelated note: We saw our first hummingbird of the year yesterday. If you live in the south, it’s time to put your feeders out!

Tigers on the Wind: The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

By Stephen Buchmann, Pollinator Partnership

Who among us isn’t mesmerized by vibrant colorful butterflies flying over a meadow or garden? Since ancient times butterflies, along with dragonflies and bees have been perhaps, the most universally cherished insects by human cultures around the world. The ancient Greek term for butterfly, psyche (Ψυχη), is also rooted in Greek mythology. Psyche was the embodiment and deification of the human soul.

Like many boys, caterpillars fascinated me. I brought eggs and caterpillars of western swallowtails home, raising them until they pupated and adults emerged as one of North America’s showiest butterflies. Metamorphosis, the transformation of an insect through its life stages; egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa or chrysalis into winged adult is nothing short of miraculous. Entomologists still do not understand all of the details of the process especially in the pupa when the larval cells are reshuffled into adult organs.

Humble “worms” changing into winged creatures before their eyes similarly awed the ancients. The Greek word ‘psyche’ is interwoven with the concept of spirit or breath, an animating life force in humans, and other animals. From Greek mythology, Psyche was the embodiment and deification of the human soul. She is often depicted in ancient statues and tile mosaics as a beautiful young woman with butterfly wings.

Eastern tiger swallowtail female (upperside). Photo by Penny Stritch.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) is one of the most common and beautiful eastern butterflies. Individuals can be found anywhere east of the Mississippi river and a bit farther west into the Great Plains states. There are also populations in several Mexican states.

Swallowtails are very large insects. When basking in the sun, their outspread wings can be 8 to 14 cm (3 to 5.5 inches) from tip to tip. Their colors are vibrant. Broad yellow wings are edged by black and with four stripes, like tapering chevrons from the forewing margins downward into the yellow wings. The bottom edges of the hind wings are especially colorful with bluish scales and one or more red spots. Male Tiger Swallowtails generally have darker blacks and none of the bluish and red scales on their hind wings. Interestingly, there is a black morph, where black replaces the broad yellow expanses. The black morphs also have the bluish and red wing scales on their hind wings.

Although they are solitary creatures, often flying high in the treetops, you can sometimes spot a special sight when a group of swallowtail males is “puddling.” Male butterflies come together at damp places in the soil and drink water. The water contains sodium ions and various amino acids, which appear to allow them to live longer. Adults of both sexes take nectar from a wide variety of native and exotic garden plants.

Females lay their large green eggs singly on plants in the Magnolia and rose families. Common host plants include tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) and wild black cherry (Prunus serotina) and sweet bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana). The nearly identical looking western swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) feeds on cottonwoods, aspens and others.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars are amazing animals. Young caterpillars are brown and white and resemble bird droppings. Can you guess why? Later, as they mature, the caterpillars turn bright green and have two amazing black, yellow, and blue false eyespots on the thorax above and behind their true eyes. The true head of the caterpillar is small, inconspicuous, and tucked under the body. If disturbed, the caterpillar is a quick-change artist. Now, instead of a harmless caterpillar, we or a bird or small mammal, are confronted with something very different: a snake’s head with glaring eyes a nose and mouth! Presumably, birds and other potential predators are put off by this impressive “snake in caterpillar’s clothing” mimetic display and the swallowtail is spared. If touched or pecked by a lizard, bird, or inquisitive human, the larvae evert a set of bright orange glands (the osmeteria) from the neck region. These produce a foul-smelling blend of defensive acid secretions that are wiped onto the attacking animal. This level is mimicry is astonishing and has been commented upon by many surprised naturalists. Each time I find a giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) on a citrus branch in my yard, I am amazed at the early and late mimicry (first a bird dropping, then a snake head) and how natural selection has evolved the intricate warning displays, a visual shout of “Back Off!”

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly is the state butterfly of Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, and South Carolina. This species is commonly seen from spring to fall and produces two broods in the north, and three life cycles in the southeastern states.

For Additional Information

For More Information about swallowtails and other butterflies, try these online Resources.

  • North American Butterfly Association (NABA)
  • Wikipedia: Eastern Swallowtail Butterfly
  • The Xerces Society (Portland, Oregon)

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