Purple flowers butterflies like

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20 PROVEN Plants That Attract Butterflies [2020 Guide]

So you are looking for plants that attract butterflies?

Well, you are not alone!

Butterfly gardening – the art of planting flowers and plants to entice butterflies into your yard – is rapidly growing in popularity.

*Skip directly to the 20 featured butterfly plants!*

Most gardeners have realized these winged beauties not only play an important role in pollinating other plants, but they are fun to watch and attract! It is also incredibly peaceful and enjoyable to sit in the garden and watch vibrantly colored butterflies flutter around.

But figuring out which plants are best for attracting butterflies is hard!

Seriously, sifting through hundreds and hundreds of potential flowers, trees, and shrubs takes a significant amount of time and effort.

But don’t worry, you have come to the right place today.

I’ve put together a list of 20 plants that attract butterflies.

Some of these I have in my garden, while the others are well-known to bring in butterflies.

Before we start talking specifics, let’s first touch on what makes certain flowers & plants so desirable to butterflies.

What kind of plants do butterflies need?

Unlike other pollinators who are only attracted to flowers (such as bees), there are two types of plants butterflies need:

#1. Plants that provide nectar for ADULT butterflies to eat.

For the rest of this article, we will refer to this type of plant as a nectar plant. Nectar, which is a sugary solution found in flowers to promote pollination, provides a vital food source for MOST adult butterflies!

Butterflies graze throughout the day, so it’s essential to provide lots of flowers in your garden for them to feed on and use. Each species of butterfly has specific flowers they prefer as a nectar source, but most adults will feed on a wide variety.

Try to group nectar plants together and include as many as you can. Butterflies like having an abundance of flowers to choose from!

  • RELATED: How To Attract Butterflies (17 Simple Tips)

#2. Plants that provide food for CATERPILLARS.

For the rest of this article, we will refer to this type of plant as a host plant.

In case you forgot, every butterfly you see started as a caterpillar. And caterpillars only eat leaves and plants and DO NOT EAT nectar. The BEST butterfly gardens make sure to include host plants that caterpillars can consume.

  • RELATED: 34 Host Plants for Butterflies and Caterpillars!

Many native plants, shrubs, and trees found in our yards, as well as vegetables in our gardens, and even pesky weeds act as host plants for caterpillars. Including them in your butterfly garden is as important as providing nectar plants. Female butterflies will only lay their eggs on suitable host plants since the emerging young cannot travel far to feed.

Please keep in mind that host plants will probably be heavily munched on by caterpillars. A popular gardening strategy is to plant them in an area that is not highly visible.

*My favorite butterfly plants serve as both host plants for caterpillars and provide flowers full of nectar for adult butterflies.*

20 Common Plants That Attract Butterflies

The following list details some of the most popular plants to attract butterflies, whether they be nectar plants or host plants. The BEST butterfly gardens make sure to offer both!

As you are reading, please keep the following things in mind:

  • Most of the plants listed below have many cultivars or varieties available for purchase. Some are better suited for different growing zones, some grow to different heights, and they all have slightly different blooming times. You may need to do additional research or contact a local nursery or butterfly club to find plants that work best in your area.
  • Where appropriate, you can find links to Amazon where you may purchase seeds or small plants, but PLEASE do your due diligence before buying online! I’ve had mixed results buying flowers and shrubs from the Internet and prefer going to a local nursery when possible!
  • Are you curious about how these specific butterfly plants were selected? Then please scroll to the bottom or

1. Aster

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Asters grow upwards of 6’ tall, with dozens of blooms on a single plant. They make a great addition to any butterfly garden, attracting a wide range of butterfly species. Asters are daisy-like perennials that bring a variety of colors to your garden towards the end of the growing season when most other plants have stopped flowering.

Flower colors come in white, pink, purple, blue and red with varieties ranging in size from short groundcovers to towering plants. With so many different colors and sizes, it’s easy to find a variety of aster that fits into your garden.

Host plant for: Pearl Crescent, Silvery Checkerspot

Nectar plant for: Sulphurs, whites, and some fritillaries.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-10

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 1-8’ tall, 1-4’ wide

Bloom Time: July, August, September

Light Requirements: Sun, but will tolerate some high canopy shade.

Genus: Aster

2. Bee Balm

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A North-American native perennial, bee balm wonderfully attracts butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds alike. Bee balm grows up to 4’ tall and produces brightly colored tubular blooms that are a fantastic nectar source. Deadheading flowers after blooms die will encourage a second round of blooms.

  • RELATED: 28 Common Flowers That Attract Hummingbirds!

There are over 50 cultivars commercially available, representing many different colors. Some are mildew resistant, and certain ones will be better for your region than others, so please check the hardiness zone and do your research.

Easy to grow, deer resistant, and drought-resistant! It is a member of the mint family, so be careful where you plant it as it tends to spread prolifically.

Host plant for: Hermit Sphinx, Orange Mint Moth, Raspberry Pyrausta

Nectar plant for: Whites, sulfurs, fritillaries, swallowtails, and hummingbird moths!

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 3-4’, up to 3’ wide

Bloom Time: July, August, September

Light Requirements: Full Sun, but also does well with a bit of shade

Scientific Name: Monarda didyma

3. Black-Eyed Susan

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A fantastic native plant, black-eyed Susans are an incredibly drought-resistant perennial that grows wild in grand expanses sweeping across the Midwest prairies. Their bright yellow daisy flowers draw in many species of butterflies to feed on their nectar.

These sun-loving beauties are quickly gaining popularity outside of their meadow habitats because of their easy-growing nature.

Host plant for: Bordered Patch, Gorgone Checkerspot, Silvery Checkerspot,

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 1-3’ tall, up to 1.5’ wide

Bloom Time: June, July, August, September

Light Requirements: Sun or partial shade

Scientific Name: Rudbeckia fulgida

4. Coneflower

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This daisy-like perennial blooms midsummer and are relatively drought-tolerant, making them a great addition to gardens in hot climates. There are only a handful of species in the genus, and they all share common characteristics described by words such as “stiff,” “dry,” and “tough.” Plants are deer resistant and can be left standing over the winter for birds.

Also known as Echinacea, coneflowers make great cut flowers for both fresh and dried arrangements. Plant roots are dried and used in herbal medicines and skincare products.

Host plant for: Silvery Checkerspot

Nectar plant for: Many species from small skippers to large swallowtails.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 2-3’ tall, 2’ wide

Bloom Time: June, July, August, September, October

Light Requirements: Sun

Genus: Echinacea

5. Cosmos

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Available in a variety of colors, cosmos grow wild in meadows across Mexico and North America. Many of these native varieties have been cultivated and in turn, became a favorite bedding plant in ornamental gardens. Due to their predisposition for growing wild in meadows, they do well in hot, dry climates and average to poor soil conditions.

Cosmos have colorful flowers, similar in shape to daisies. The 3-5” wide blooms make great cut flowers and are known for not only attracting butterflies to your garden, but also bees, and birds. Plants left alone in the fall will self-seed for the following spring.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-11

Life Cycle: Perennial or Annual

Approximate Mature Size: 1-7’ tall, 18-30” wide

Bloom Time: June, July, August

Light Requirements: Sun

Genus: Compositae

6. Goldenrod

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Not to be confused with that pesky ragweed that makes so many of us sneeze, goldenrod is a native plant primarily found in prairies and meadows.

Goldenrod plants have many useful properties, and because of this, they are finding their way into garden landscapes. These late-blooming plants are known for their ability to attract butterflies and other pollinators. An added bonus is planting goldenrod near vegetable gardens will draw insect pests away from your valuable plants.

Nectar plant for: Appeals mostly to smaller butterflies, but Tiger Swallowtails are known to visit goldenrod.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 1-6’ tall, up to 3’ wide

Bloom Time: July, August, September, October

Light Requirements: Sun to part shade.

Genus: Solidago

7. Hackberry

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These deciduous trees are large, native species related to the American Elm. Hackberry trees establish quickly and are tolerant of a range of soil and light conditions. In the spring they produce inconspicuous clusters of green flowers that develop into purple-red fruit favored by birds.

Hackberry trees have a unique bark pattern – it looks like warts in young plants and develops into cork-like ridges as trees mature. These ridges provide excellent spots for butterflies to lay eggs, making them a great host plant for larvae.

Host plant for: Snout, Hackberry Emperor

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 60-100’ tall, up to 100’ wide

Bloom Time: April

Light Requirements: Sun, Part Shade, Shade

Scientific Name: Celtis occidentalis

*Most native tree’s make excellent host plants, including oaks, willows, elms, and black cherries.*

8. Joe-Pye Weed

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Joe-Pye weeds have beautiful, large flower heads that are pale pinkish to purple and filled with nectar and pollen. Strong stems support the large flowers, so plants rarely need to be staked, making them great accent plants at the back of your garden or along fences.

Joe-Pye weed grows best when given plenty of water, especially young plants. Older, established plants can handle brief periods of drought.

Host plant for: Clymene Moth, Eupatorium Borer Moth, Ruby Tiger Moth, Three-lined Flower Moth, Red Groundling Moth

Nectar plant for: Skippers, fritillaries, and swallowtails.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 6-8’ tall, up to 3’ wide

Bloom Time: July, August, September

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Genus: Eutrochium

9. Liatris

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Commonly known as blazing stars or gay feathers, these plants bear unique flowers that add interest to your butterfly garden. Grass-like leaves clump together at the base of the plant, with a tall spike of dense flower heads.

The pinkish-purple flowers bloom from the top down and are loved as nectar plants!

Host plant for: Bleeding Flower Moth

Nectar plant for: Many species, from large to small!

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 3-4’ tall, up to 1’ wide

Bloom Time: July, August, September

Light Requirements: Sun

Genus: Liatris

10. Lupine

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Available as both annuals and perennials, lupines are a butterfly garden favorite. Lupine plants develop stiff, erect spires of flowers that can reach 4’ in height. Purple is the most common variety, but lupine comes in a wide range of colors.

Because Lupine comes in all sizes and colors, so there should be some variety that fits in your backyard perfectly.

Lupine is also a great plant for feeding and attracting hummingbirds.

  • RELATED: 28 Common Flowers That Attract Hummingbirds!

Host plant for: Boisduval’s Blue, Clouded Sulphur, Orange Sulphur, Persius Duskywing, Silvery Blue, Acmon Blue, Arrowhead Blue, Melissa Blue, Scooty Hairstreak, Wild Indigo Duskywing, Karner Blue, Gray Hairstreak, Frosted Elfin, Eastern Tailed-Blue

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9

Life Cycle: Perennial, although some varieties are grown as Annuals

Approximate Mature Size: 3’ tall, 3’ wide

Bloom Time: May, June, July

Light Requirements: Sun to Part Shade

Genus: Lupinus

11. Milkweed

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Although it’s a beneficial plant, Common Milkweed is often treated as a weed and removed from gardens and landscapes. These hardy perennials thrive in the sun and can tolerate average to poor soil.

Milkweed contains latex, a mildly poisonous, sticky sap within its leaves and stem. This bitter taste deters many of the animals and insects that try to feed on its leaves and may irritate your skin.

Butterflies, however, are immune to this toxin. By feeding exclusively on milkweed plants, butterflies (Monarchs in particular) can accumulate enough of this poison in their bodies to make them taste bitter to their predators.

Host plant for: Monarch, Dogbane Tiger Moth, Milkweed Tussock Mother, Unexpected Cycnia

Nectar plant for: Fritillaries, swallowtails, smaller skippers, monarchs

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 2-5’ tall, up to 2’ wide

Bloom Time: June, July, August

Light Requirements: Sun, to part shade

Genus: Asclepiadaceae

12. Pansy

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Known for their colorful “faces,” pansies have one of the widest ranges of colors and thrive well in both container gardens or when planted directly in the ground. They are treated as annual plants but will come back every year if left to go to seed.

Pansies like partial sun and cooler temperatures and need plenty of water to thrive!

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-8

Life Cycle: Perennial, usually grown as an Annual or Biennial

Approximate Mature Size: 6-8” tall, 6-8” wide

Bloom Time: April, May, September, October

Light Requirements: Partial shade, will tolerate sun if given enough water

Genus: Violaceae

13. Phlox

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Phlox features bright, disc-like flowers that are available in colors from white to purple, hitting many shades of the rainbow in between. This fun flower comes in both upright and creeping forms and is commonly used as a border plant or accent flower.

Phlox is known for their dependable nature, abundant blooms, and most importantly, their ability to attract butterflies and other native pollinators.

Phlox has been a perennial favorite in heirloom gardens for decades, yet looks entirely at home in modern-day garden designs.

Host plant for: Phlox Moth

Nectar plant for: Larger butterflies, such as Eastern Tiger and Spicebush Swallowtails

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 8”-4’ feet tall, 1-2’ wide

Bloom Time: April, May, June, July, August, September

Light Requirements: Sun to part shade

Genus: Phlox

14. Salvia

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Most of us know salvia by its more common name, sage. Ornamental salvias are a cousin to the common sage we grow to use in the kitchen. Plants are adorned with small clusters of bright flowers that bloom in the summer and fall and draw in both butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees.

  • RELATED: 22 PROVEN Plants That Attract BEES!

Salvia plants can be divided into three groups:

  • Woody stems.
  • Herbaceous stems that die back to the ground in the winter.
  • Herbaceous stems that form basal rosettes.

Sage is fairly drought resistant and low-maintenance, which makes them an excellent choice for dry, sunny spots in your butterfly garden.

Host plant for: Elegant Sphinx

USDA Hardiness Zone: 2-10

Life Cycle: Perennial or Annual

Approximate Mature Size: 1-3’ tall, 1’ wide

Bloom Time: June, July, August, September

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Genus: Salvia

15. Sedum

Also known as stonecrop, the fleshy sedum plants provide a long season of flowers that often change color as the season progresses. This long-blooming period makes them a great plant to use to attract butterflies and bees.

Sedums like lots of sunlight and grow well in moderate to even poor soil, as long as it’s well-drained. Richer, heavy soil causes plants to grow tall, toppling, or snapping under the weight of the flower clusters.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 4”-2’ tall, 1-2’ wide

Bloom Time: May, June, July, August

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Genus: Sedum

16. Shasta Daisy

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Similar in looks to the wild daisy found along roadsides, the Shasta daisy is a classic perennial. Its blooms are larger and more robust than the wild variety, blooming in gorgeous clumps that grow 2-3’ tall and 1-2’ wide.

Shasta daisies are easy to care for, requiring deadheading to promote more flowers and dividing every 3-4 years to stimulate plant vigor.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-8

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 3’ tall, 2’ wide

Bloom Time: May, June, July, August

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Scientific Name: Leucanthemum superbum

17. Snapdragon

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A cool-season flower, snapdragons add beautiful color to gardens early in the spring and then again in fall. Snapdragons are available in most colors, to coordinate or contrast with other garden plants. Their tall spikes make for a longer blooming period than many other plants.

Tubular flowers make them popular with butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. Plant in rich, well-drained soil and deadhead often to prolong the blooming time. They are typically grown as annuals but can overwinter in zones 9-11.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Life Cycle: Typically grown as Annuals, but may overwinter in warmer zones.

Approximate Mature Size: 8-36” tall, 12-18” wide

Bloom Time: May, June, July, August

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Scientific Name: Antirrhinum majus

18. Sunflower

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Sunflowers are known for their large, brilliantly colored yellow or orangish heads, and are a favorite with butterflies. The fast-growing, erect annuals provide a large landing area with many nectar flowers.

Late summer and early fall blooms make them popular with migratory species and provide bright, sunny flowers at the end of the season.

Host plant for: Silvery Checkerspot

Nectar plant for: Large butterflies like swallowtails and monarchs.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 7-10

Life Cycle: Annual

Approximate Mature Size: 3-10’ tall, 12-18” wide

Bloom Time: July, August

Light Requirements: Sun

Scientific Name: Helianthus annus

19. Verbena

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Swamp Verbena is a versatile plant that is native to North America. It is planted in many gardens due to its ability to thrive in hot conditions and its ability to attract butterflies with its beautiful clusters of small flowers. Verbenas have a long blooming season and come in a variety of colors.

Butterflies are drawn to the nectar-rich verbena flowers, while the plant overall acts as a deterrent for deer and rabbits.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 2-10

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 2-5’ tall, 1’ wide

Bloom Time: June, July, August, September, October

Light Requirements: Sun to Partial Shade

Scientific Name: Verbena hastata

20. Zinnia

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One of the easiest annuals to grow, zinnias provide a wealth of color in a garden landscape as well as attracting butterflies. Zinnias grow best from seed and require little care other than deadheading flowers as needed.

Varieties are available in a range of colors, shapes, and sizes. Deadhead spent blooms to encourage a longer blooming season.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-11

Life Cycle: Annual

Approximate Mature Size: 6” tall, 12-18” wide

Bloom Time: May, June, July, August, September, October

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Scientific Name: Zinnia elegans

What about butterfly bushes?

I know, I know, I didn’t include butterfly bushes, but I have a good reason!

At one time, butterfly bushes were widely recommended for butterfly gardens. But the popular garden varieties imported from China are now being classified as invasive species and weeds. In many areas, they are crowding out native food that is essential to local wildlife (butterflies and birds specifically).

There are some non-invasive American varieties of butterfly bushes that can be purchased. If you’re interested, check with your local garden center or county extension office for more information.

How did I choose the BEST butterfly plants?

When I sat down to compile a list of the best plants for attracting butterflies, a few criteria came to mind:

1. Abundant Source of Food

Butterflies are drawn into a yard or garden that has a plentiful source of nectar flowers. Like bees and hummingbirds, they need the sugary solution to give them energy.

But remember that butterflies also need host plants to lay their eggs!

Plants that serve as both nectar and host plants offer butterflies a one-stop shopping place! Although some gardeners like to keep host plants tucked a little bit away from their primary garden plants.

2. Easy to Find

I wanted to stick to butterfly plants that are readily available at your local nursery or easy to buy from a reputable online retailer.

I tried to compile a list of butterfly plants that you didn’t have to order a year in advance from a specialty nursery and then have it shipped across the country.

3. Native to North America

I believe it’s best to plant specimens native to North America to draw in butterflies. They provide excellent sources of energy for butterflies and caterpillars but are also preferred by other pollinators, insects, spiders, etc.

And voracious young caterpillars DEFINITELY prefer native plants!

But the line between what is native and what is not is a bit unclear. Some plants originate from other continents but have been in North America so long that they are considered “naturalized” in the wild. Also, most plants you see in nurseries are not what you would find in nature anyway, but some cultivar of the wild version of that flower species.

So I did my best when trying to make sure the following plants are all native. Forgive me if it’s not perfect. 🙂

How do you know if a plant is native?

There is a helpful search tool located on the United States Department of Agriculture website. If you are not sure if a plant is native, type in the scientific name or common name in the search bar on the left-hand side. It will show you whether the plant is native to North America, introduced, or both.

  • *View the USDA Native plant search tool HERE.*

4. Relatively Easy to Grow

Truth be told, I am certainly not a master gardener. When considering plants, I wanted them suitable for gardening amateurs. I look for plants that don’t require much attention other than the basics such as watering, fertilizing, and pruning.

It’s also imperative to consider your Plant Hardiness Zone when selecting any flowers, shrubs, or trees, which will ensure the plant is appropriate for your local climate.

How do you choose plants for your hardiness zone?

Whenever you buy a plant, it displays the hardiness zones on the plant tag. The listed zones explain what climates the plant will thrive in.

For example, I live in Northeast Ohio, which is zone 6a. If I bought a flower that had a plant hardiness zone range of 8a – 12a, then I know it won’t survive our cold winters. Many plants only thrive in cooler (lower) zones and can’t live through the hot summers of the south.

Check out the USDA website to check your specific zip code.

Making sure your butterfly plants are appropriate for YOUR hardiness zones is extremely important! And it’s the reason that a butterfly garden in Alabama will look completely different than the butterfly habitat I have created in my backyard in Ohio.

But creating your own regionally unique destination for butterflies is part of the fun!

Final Thoughts

I hope you can see there are many plants available that can be planted in a garden to attract butterflies!

Some plants provide food for caterpillars, while others entice butterflies with their nectar (and many do both!).

Planting a variety of nectar and host plants will give butterflies plenty of feeding sources and options in your garden! This variety will attract these winged beauties and also encourage them to stick around and lay eggs.

Attract More Butterflies To Your Garden With Eight Gorgeous Flowers

If you love butterflies, the following eight plants are a must-have to lure them to your garden. Next summer, don’t forget to plant these flowers and enjoy the hoards of butterflies that won’t be able to resist your flower garden.

Eight Butterfly Plants for the Garden

Here are eight gorgeous flowers that are sure to attract more butterflies to your garden.

Butterfly Weed – Also known as milkweed (Asclepias), this hardy perennial will be appreciated by more than just butterflies, as it shows off brilliant orange or rose flowers on 2-foot stems. It has been shown to attract a wide variety of butterflies, including Red Admiral, Monarch, Painted Lady, Cabbage White, and Western Swallowtail.

Bee Balm – Not only is the bee balm (Monarda) flower delicately beautiful and a great addition to any flower garden, but it just happens to attract the Checkered White butterfly.

Zinnia – With so many varieties of colorful zinnias on the market, you’re sure to find one you love. They are known to attract the Zebra Longwing, the Cloudless Sulphur, the Painted Lady, and the Silvery Checkerspot butterflies.

Joe Pye Weed – Another butterfly favorite, joe pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) has large round heads of vanilla-scented, rosy pink flowers that bloom in late summer, attracting butterflies by the gazillions. The Anise, Giant, Zebra, and Black swallowtail butterflies and the Great and Gulf Fritillary butterflies are just a few that can’t resist its charms.

Purple Coneflower – The stunning purple coneflower (Echinacea), also known for its medicinal properties, is known for attracting the common Wood Nymph butterfly. It’s also a hardy perennial that requires little care — what could be better?

Butterfly Bush – True to its name, the butterfly bush (Buddleia), also known as the summer lilac, provides blooms in various shades that are unsurpassed for attracting butterflies like the Pipevine, Polydamus, and Spicebush Swallowtails as well as Red Admirals. It gives off a great scent too!

Hollyhock – This classic, tall biennial flower is a necessary component for the life cycle of the Painted Lady Butterfly. Hollyhocks (Alcea) provide a host plant for Painted Lady caterpillars to feed on before they morph into butterflies.

Passion Flower – The passion flower vine (Passiflora) is another gorgeous flower that just happens to be preferred by caterpillars before they morph into the Zebra Longwing and Gulf Fritillary butterflies. It’s also reputed to be easy to grow.

Before planting these species, be sure to discover which butterflies are native in your area so you can plant the appropriate flowers and bushes. Some trees, like willows and oaks, also happen to be preferred caterpillar host habitats. Also, be sure to provide the butterflies with rocks on which to warm themselves and some muddy dirt or wet sand for drinking. Before you know it, swallowtails, monarchs, and fritillaries will be lining up to get to your flower garden.

Butterfly Pollination

Butterflies are very active during the day and visit a variety of wildflowers. Butterflies are less efficient than bees at moving pollen between plants. Highly perched on their long thin legs, they do not pick up much pollen on their bodies and lack specialized structures for collecting it.

Butterflies probe for nectar, their flight fuel, and typically favor the flat, clustered flowers that provide a landing pad and abundant rewards. Butterflies have good vision but a weak sense of smell. Unlike bees, butterflies can see red.

Butterfly Flowers

Butterflies typically visit flowers that are:

  • In clusters and provide landing platforms
  • Brightly colored (red, yellow, orange)
  • Open during the day
  • Ample nectar producers, with nectar deeply hidden
  • Nectar guides present
  • May be clusters of small flowers (goldenrods, Spirea)

Many butterflies produce scents that attract the opposite sex. Many of these scents often smell like the flowers that they are attracted to and visit. The scent of these butterfly-pollinated flowers might have evolved as an adaptation that made use of the existing attractiveness of these scents.

Gardens can act as important stepping stones between nature reserves and other natural habitats by offering abundant supplies of nectar and food plants.

Butterflies will visit any garden, however small if they can feed on suitable nectar plants and a well thought out garden can attract many species of butterfly. If you manage your patch to create breeding habitat you may see even more.

Nectar provides butterflies and moths with energy to fly and find a mate. In spring, it helps butterflies refuel after winter hibernation or a gruelling journey to Britain from southern Europe or Africa.

In autumn nectar helps butterflies and moths to build up their energy reserves so they have the best chance of surviving hibernation or the journey back to warmer climes. Another way to help butterflies is to allow them to breed in your garden – only with the right foodplants can they lay eggs of the next generation, and so the more we grow for them, the more butterflies there will be.

Tips on how to attract butterflies:

  • Butterflies like warmth so choose sunny, sheltered spots when planting nectar plants.
  • Choose different plants to attract a wider variety of species. Place the same types of plant together in blocks.
  • Try to provide flowers right through the butterfly season. Spring flowers are vital for butterflies coming out of hibernation and autumn flowers help butterflies build up their reserves for winter.
  • Prolong flowering by deadheading flowers, mulching with organic compost, and watering well to keep the plants healthy.
  • Don’t use insecticides and pesticides – they kill butterflies and many pollinating insects as well as ladybirds, ground beetles and spiders.
  • Don’t buy peat compost. Peat bogs are home to many special animals and plants, including the Large Heath butterfly, which is declining across Europe. There are now good alternatives to peat available from garden centres.

The best plants for summer nectar:

  • Buddleia (The butterfly bush). Very easy to grow in almost any soil. Different varieties will flower in pink, red, purple, and white. Usually in bloom through July and August. These shrubs need pruning well in Spring as they can grow 5′ to 8′ from the ground in a single season.
  • Verbena bonariensis. Stems up to a metre tall support heads of lilac-purple flowers from August to October. Easy to grow from seed, plant March to April in well-drained soil. These can provide useful height at the back of a border. Only half hardy so can be a short-lived perennial.
  • Lavender. Flowers are a purplish-blue in colour and grow on spikes through the summer. Plants can be used for edging beds or grown to form an attractive, low-growing hedge. It thrives in a sunny, sheltered position in well-drained soil. Lavender should be planted in April or May and pruned back to encourage bushy growth.
  • Perennial Wallflower (Bowles Mauve). Produces a profusion of sweet-scented purple flowers from April all through the summer. Wallflowers make great bedding plants and will grow well in full sun or light shade. Plant in well-drained soil.
  • Marjoram (Oregano). A perennial herb, growing from 20 to 80cm tall. White, pink or purple flowers grow on spikes from June to September. A good edging plant and useful ground cover, requiring little maintenance. The smaller varieties also do well in rock and alpine gardens.

If you love to see butterflies during summer and want a garden that is as friendly to wildlife as possible, a great way start is by growing a variety of nectar plants that will encourage butterflies and moths into your garden.

We’ve put together 12 fantastic nectar plants you can grow at home to do this and you can also take a look how to attract bees into your garden for some more garden tips on how to encourage bees.

1. Buddleia

Otherwise called the butterfly bush, this plant is adorned with butterflies in summer and is easy to grow in almost any soil.

Depending on the variety, Buddleia will flower in pink, red, white or purple. As the shrubs can grow from 5’ to 8’, the plant needs pruning well in Spring.

2. Lavender

These fragrant lilac-blue flowers can be used for edging beds or grow to form an attractive, low-growing hedge.

Lavender will grow well in a sunny, sheltered position and needs well-drained soil to thrive. Plant in your garden during April or May.

3. Verbena

This plant stems up to a meter tall with heads of pale purple heads that flower from August to October.

This plant is easy to grow from seed, plant between March and April in well-drained soil. Verbena Bonariensis can provide useful height at the back of a border.

4. Marjoram

Marjoram, known by many as oregano is a perennial herb that can grow from 20 to 80 cm tall. White, pink or purple flowers will grow from June to September.

Marjoram makes a good edging plant and useful ground cover, requiring little maintenance.

5. Perennial Wallflower

The Perennial Wallflower is a sweet smelling purple flower which flowers from April all the way through the summer.

Otherwise called the Bowles Mauve, it makes a great bedding plant that will grow well in full sun or light shade. For the best growing results, you should plant in well-drained soil.

6. New England Aster

New England Asters peak in butterfly season. They are easy to grow and mildew resistant. Good varieties include Helen Picton, Harrington’s Pink, Barr’s Pink and Rosa Sieger.

7. Phlox Paniculata

This pretty flower is scented of meadows and sweet cake which makes it irresistible to butterflies and moths. Some varieties which are good for growing at home include two pinks, Eva Cullum and Monica Lynden-Bell. Franz Schubert is a good lilac variety.

8. Centranthus Ruber

This woody-based perennial, sometimes grown as a biennial, with grey-green leaves and dense clusters of crimson, pink or white, slightly fragrant flowers from late spring to autumn.

9. Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’

A dusky-leaved sedum with neatly serrated foliage, this plant is bee-friendly as well as attractive to butterflies and moths. The plant flowers heads of red stars in August.

10. Matthiola incana alba

The grey-leaved sea stock needs a warm, dry site. It also requires deadheading, if left to seed it will die. It’s scented white flowers attract moths, bees and early butterflies and it blooms from late spring onwards.

How to attract butterflies?

Part 1: Understanding what butterflies prefer

The brightly colorful butterflies are a brilliant sight to observe in our wildlife gardens. They not only entertain and provide us a peace of mind, but prove themselves useful by pollinating our flowers.

To attract butterflies and to make them truly adore your garden requires a few key steps. First step is to learn to think like a butterfly. When you know what butterflies prefer you are able to answer their needs. Second step is to grow an optimal butterfly garden. Third step is customizing and trying out different tricks to attract specific preferred species.

Mastering all the steps requires a bit of dedication and green thumb, but the reward will be great. Your morning tea by the garden has never tasted this good before.

In part one we must become a butterfly and understand how they perceive the world. Shall we begin?

1. Learn your local butterflies

Growing your garden to suit the taste of these butterflies will bring great results.

Every species has their own preferences and they differ in terms of size, diet and migration. Learn and discover the native species in your area and focus your efforts in attracting these specific breeds. In the UK there are for example 58 main types of butterflies.

Here are the 14 most common butterflies found in UK:

  • Comma, Brimstone, Gatekeeper, Green Veined White, Large White, Marbled White, Meadow Brown, Peacock, Purple hairstreak, Ringlet, Small Heath, Small Skipper, Wall Brown and Common Blue

2. Colors matter

Butterflies see the world a lot differently when compared to man because they can see ultraviolet light. Butterflies color receptors can only perceive colors in a high frequency (frequency is a measuring unit of color). They can’t pick up lower frequencies, thus they are blind to the color red for example.

This doesn’t mean butterflies wouldn’t pollinate red flowers. In fact as a general rule butterflies prefer flowers that are white, pink, purple, red, yellow and orange. Least favorite colors are blue and green.

Butterflies may learn which colored flowers tend to produce their favorite types of nectar.

3. Choosing the right kind of flowers

Butterflies visit your garden primarily in search of nectar and other food sources. Butterflies love to spend their daytime in places that have lots of nectar resources and receive plenty of sunlight from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Fully grown-up butterflies avoid feeding in the shade. It is important to choose flowers that enjoy lots of sunshine and plant them where they receive as much light as possible.

Good rule of thumb for a butterfly-attracting flower is:

    1. It produces lots of nectar
    2. It has deep flowers so they are only accessible to insects with long tongues
    3. Its flowers are massed so that once a butterfly lands it can easily find lots of nectar

Butterflies are for example always fans of the flower Buddleja (Butterfly bush)

4. Nectar all summer long

It is important to plan beforehand how to keep your garden blooming the whole summer. Butterflies need nectar throughout an adult butterfly’s life cycle.

Mark in your calendar the dates when you plant your seeds. Use the information from the plant packaging to find the time it takes for the flower to bloom and how long it will bloom. Mark all these in your calendar and try to keep your bloom dates continuous. This way there will always be nectar in your garden throughout the whole summer.

5. Let’s not forget about the caterpillars

Same as when choosing the right kind of flowers for the perfect nectar-sipping experience, butterflies need proper so called ‘host plants’ to lay its eggs on. Host plants are not the most flamboyant kind of flowers. They are the nurseries of the garden: they provide protection and an optimal place for the caterpillars to grow.

Common host plants are for example:

    • Flowers: Aster, Butterfly Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Coneflowers, Mallow, Ruellia, Snapragon, Swamp Milkweed, Violet and Wild Senna
    • Herbs: Dill, Fennel and Parsley
    • Grasses: Little Bluestem Grass, Orchard Grass and Panic Grass
    • Vines: Passion flowers and Pipevine
    • Trees: Aspen Tree, Elm Tree, Prickly Ash, Sweet Bay and Willow.

By including both host plants and nectar plants you can attract a wider selection of butterflies while providing an environment that supports their entire life cycle.

These are the first five points we need to understand about butterflies in order to move on to the next part of our guide: growing an optimal butterfly garden. In the next chapter we will also cover what other possibilities there is to attract butterflies if you don’t have a garden. Stay tuned!

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