Who doesn’t love watching butterflies (can we call them fluttering flowers?) fly from one flower to the next on a sunny day? These are the best plants that attract butterflies to your garden.
The Best Plants for a Butterfly Garden:A Black Swallowtail Butterfly feeding on the sweet nectar from a Blazing Star
Aster familyBlazing stars (Liatris spp.)
Coneflowers (Rudbeckia spp. and Echinacea spp. aka purple coneflower)
Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.)
Asters (Aster spp.)
Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.)
Vanilla plants (Carphephorus spp.)
Goldenasters (Chrysopsis spp. and Pityopsis spp.)
Goldenrods (Solidago spp.)
Mistflower, Conoclinum coelestinum
Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum)
Ironweed (Vernonia spp.) Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on Bee Balm Flowers
Mint familyBee balms (Monarda spp.)
Sages (Salvia spp.)
Verbena familyVerbenas (Glandularia spp. and Verbena spp.)
Lantana (Lantana spp.)
Golden dewdrop (Duranta repens)
Porterweed (Stachytarphaeta urticifolia)
Butterfly bush familyButterfly bush (Buddleia spp.)
Bellflower familyCardinal flower and other lobelias (Lobelia spp.)
Phlox familyPhlox (Phlox spp.) Monarch butterfly on Pentas flower at the Butterfly World attraction in Coconut Creek, Florida
Madder familyPentas (Pentas lanceolata)
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
Firebush (Hamelia patens)
Honeysuckle familyGlossy abelia (Abelia grandiflora)
Legume familyRedbud (Cercis canadensis)
Holly familyHollies (Ilex spp.)
Butterfly Host Plants for CaterpillarsIf your pollinator friendly garden doesn’t include caterpillar host plants, it is just a fast-food stop for adult butterflies. They won’t hang around if they don’t find the appropriate plant to lay eggs on to create their caterpillar babies.
The rose, legume, and laurel families include many important host plants for butterfly larvae. Plums, cherries, Carolina laurel-cherry (Prunus spp.) – tiger swallowtail, red-spotted purple
Legume familyCassias, sennas, Partridge pea, (Cassia spp.) – sulphurs, hairstreaks, sleepy orange
Beggar’s ticks (Desmodium spp.) – long-tailed skipper
Clovers (Trifolium spp.) – dogface
Garden beans (Phaseolus spp.) – long-tailed skipper
Laurel familyLaurels, red bay, sassafras, spicebush (Lauraceae) – palamedes and spicebush swallowtails
Birthwort familyDutchman’s pipe, Calico flower, Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia spp.) – polydamus and pipevine swallowtails
Sunflower familyShepherd’s needle (Bidens alba) – sulphurs
Sunflowers (Helianthus) – painted lady Swallowtail caterpillar on a fennel plant
Carrot familyFennel, dill, parsley, water hemlock (Apiaceae) – black swallowtail
Citrus familyCitrus trees, Hercules’ club, toothache tree, hoptree (Rutaceae)– giant swallowtail
Willow familyCoastal Plain Willow (Salix caroliniania) – viceroy
Verbena familyFrogfruit, Phyla nodiflora – white peacock, buckeye, crescents
Passionflower familyPassionflower (Passiflora spp.) – fritillaries, zebra longwing
Pawpaw familyPawpaw (Asimina spp.) – zebra swallowtail Elms (Ulmus spp.) – question mark, eastern comma, mourning cloak, tawny emperor
Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata) – hackberry and snout butterflies, tawny emperor, question mark Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) – tiger swallowtail
Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) – tiger swallowtail Monarch butterfly feasting on purple milkweed flowers
Dogbane familyMilkweed plants (Asclepias spp.) – monarch, queen
Dogwood familyFlowering dogwood (Cornus florida) – American snout, banded hairstreak, spring azure.
Mustard familyCollards, kale, mustard (Brassica spp.) – whites
Once you have these plants that attract butterflies in your garden you will be able to see the complete metamorphosis of the butterfly life stages. When the butterfly emerges it truly is remarkable!
How to Attract ButterfliesButterfly eggs laid on a host plant eventually will turn into caterpillars. This is the start of the life cycle of the butterfly. To attract and keep butterflies, you need to supply the foods that they and their caterpillars eat. Many butterfly species get their nourishment from nectar that they sip from a variety of flowers. Butterfly caterpillars are more choosy, though. Most butterfly larvae are dependent on just one or a few kinds of green foliage for their sustenance. Female butterflies knows best, and she lays her eggs only on the kind of butterfly plant that her babies will eat.
A successful butterfly garden needs to include flowers for the adult stage butterflies and foliage for the caterpillars. Pollinators love to have a place to hang in between hunting for food sources.
Not all butterflies sip nectar or pollen. Red-spotted purples, mourning cloaks, buckeyes, and malachites, are among those that feed on rotting fruits, tree sap, carrion, or even dung.
To attract the most butterflies to your pollinator garden, serve up a variety of flower colors, shapes, and sizes. Include morning and afternoon bloomers, flowers that open in different seasons (winter bloomers, we are looking at you!), USDA hardiness zone, and those that bloom in full sun areas as well as those that prefer partial shade nooks. You may also take into consideration the weather patterns in your area i.e. the amount of rainfall vs the drought tolerance of the plant. Diversity is the key to attracting the most butterflies to your garden.
Of course, no matter what type of flowers you plant the pollinators will flock! These butterfly garden plants are for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, as well as other pollinators like wasps and other wildlife.
Some of the best nectar sources for attracting adult butterflies are in the aster, mint, and verbena families. They are long blooming flowers and you invite butterflies into your landscape in no time! Monarch butterfly stages of development. Aren’t they beautiful?!