Plants that Attract Butterflies

Grow Your Own Butterfly Garden

May 19, 2019
attract-butterflies-to-garden

Butterflies and flowers were made for each other, and there are certain flowers that butterflies absolutely love to be around. As a French poet once pointed out, “Butterflies are flying flowers, and flowers are tethered butterflies.” Here are some of the best plants that attract butterflies!

In attracting butterflies to your garden, it’s important to understand what they want most out of life: nectar. The ancients, who believed that nectar fell directly from heaven, named it after the wines of the gods.

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Keeping Your Garden Butterfly-Friendly

If you want to keep butterflies in your yard (and support these declining pollinators), it’s essential to include host plants where they can lay their eggs (some butterfly species are fussier than others as to what plants are best); once the larvae hatch, the host plants will serve as food for the developing caterpillars. 

To encourage butterflies to reside in your garden, it’s best to include food sources in the form of host plants for caterpillars and nectar plants for butterflies.

A butterfly’s wish list also includes sunny open spaces, shelter from the wind, and fresh water.

It’s also crucial to opt for using native plant varieties in your garden, as these will be the most beneficial to the butterflies and caterpillars in your area. Consult your local garden center or Cooperative Extension service for more information on native plants.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed.
A monarch caterpillar feasting on milkweed.

Plants That Attract Butterflies

For caterpillars, consider plants like violets, milkweed, and asters. Learn more about milkweed, the only host plant for monarchs. 

Did you know: Monarch caterpillars ONLY eat milkweed. In fact, the monarch butterfly is also known as the “milkweed butterfly.” Read more about common milkweed.

For butterflies, Joe-Pye weed, ironweed, yellow coneflowers, goldenrod, and brightly-hued asters are nectar-filled favorites. 

See our full butterfly plant list below.

Common Name Latin Name
Allium Allium
Aromatic Aster Symphyotrichum oblongifolium
Bee balm Monarda
Black Cherry Prunus serotina
Blue Wild Indigo Baptisia australis
Blueberry bushes Vaccinium corymbosum,
Vaccomoium angustifolium
Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis
Butterfly bush* Buddleia
Catmint Nepeta
Clove Pink Dianthus
Cornflower Centaurea
Daylily Hemerocallis
False indigo Baptisia
Fleabane Erigeron
Floss flower Ageratum
Globe thistle Echinops
Goldenrod Solidago
Grey Dogwood Cornus racemosa
Helen’s flower Helenium
Hollyhock Alcea
Hoptree Ptelea trifoliata
Joe-Pye weeds Eupatoriadelphus fistulosus,
Eupatoriadelphus maculates,
Eupatorium purpureum
Lavender Lavendula
Lilac Syringa
Lupine Lupinus
Lychnis Lychnis
Mallow Malva
Milkweed Asclepias tuberosa
Mint Mentha
New York Ironweed Vernonia noveboracensis
Ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius
Northern Spicebush  Lindera benzoin
Pansy Viola
Phlox Phlox
Pipevine Aristolochia macrophylla
Privet Ligustrum
Purple coneflower Echinacea
Rock cress Arabis
Sage Salvia
Sea holly Eryngium
Senna, American Senna hebacarpa
Senna, Maryland Senna marilandica
Shasta daisy Chrysanthemum
Snapdragon Antirrhinum
Stonecrop Sedum
Sweet alyssum Lobularia
Sweet rocket Hesperis
Tickseed Coreopsis
Tuliptree Liriodendron tulipifera
Trumpet Vine Campsis radicans
Zinnia Zinnia

* now categorized as an invasive plant in many states.

Please let us know if we’re missing any of your favorite butterfly plants! Just comment below.

Butterflies also need a friendly habitat. To learn more, read Robin’s post about Butterfly Gardening.

Related Pollinator Articles

Source: 

Adapted from The Old Farmer's Almanac Book of Garden Wisdom

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Reader Comments

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Plants that attract butterflies

The plant that attracts the most butterflies and bees in our garden in southern VA is cosmos. In our area, cosmos begin blooming in early September and continue till frost. It is the place to be even over many other butterfly favorite flowers. It provides food late in the season when many other flowers are spent. The bees love it so much that they will sleep on the plant over night and are slow to wake up in the morning (particularly when the nights and mornings are cool). Cosmos love dry poor soil so do not fertilize or over water them. Because our variety grows 6 feet tall, we plant it next to a tall fence and occasionally, we have to tie them up. The blooms are a brilliant orange. They are an annual but reseed profusely.

Butterflies Love Ligustrum

My husband and I have enjoyed watching Monarchs, Zebra Heliconians, Black Swallowtails and Eastern TIger Swallowtails enjoying the nectar from our flowering Ligustrum trees. The bees love them too and the fragrance is delightful! We moved to our new home near Tampa last July, so this is our first spring and what a nice surprise! We’d planted milkweed, which the Monarchs love, along with Sweet Almond Bush (yummy fragrance) and other pollinator enticing flowers and shrubs, but the mature Ligustrum trees were already here. Little did we know that they would be such a butterfly and bee magnet!

Deer Resistant Butterfly attracting plants

Hi does anyone have a recommendation of a plant that help the butterflies but may be deer resistant? none of these seem to mention this fact.
we are in north east PA with many deer
Thanks!

Pacific Northwest Plants to Attract Butterflies?

Hi, I live in the state of Washington, and I was wondering which ones on your list could attract the most butterflies in my area.

Plants that attract Butterflies

Each year, I plant Red Penta in my garden and it attracts both Butterflies and Hummingbirds. I also plant Parsley in several places in my gardens as the Butterlies like to lay their eggs there. The larvae eats the Parsley.

Butterfly and humming bird plants

Hi a really wonderful plant that isn't on either list is Jewelweed. I absolutely love it and have let it pretty much take over my property which is 4.5 acres, mostly wooded. I see so many butterflies and humming birds all summer! It also attracts tons of bees and other insects. It's a very beautiful plant!

Plants for butterflies

Tithonia is a great plant for attracting bees and butterflies.

General question

I live in jesup GA. I have literally three green thumbs. Is there any plants I should avoid as I am trying to attract pollinators to my veggies.

Pollinator Plants

Generally, pollinators aren’t very picky, so there’s not much you can do to accidentally deter them. However, some say that strongly-scented plants, such as citronella, eucalyptus, or mint, can discourage bees. Avoid planting these and other smelly herbs (basil is fine) near your veggies and the pollinators will be happiest.

Native species

I have read numerous articles encouraging San Francisco Bay-Area gardeners to NOT plant milkweed. Milkweed isn’t native to our area, and monarchs typically go elsewhere to breed. It could actually hurt the butterflies if they lay eggs out of their normal range.

Are there links to regional recommendations for planting for butterflies? There are probably issues like this throughout the country.

Donna, are you sure they're

Donna, are you sure they're talking about ALL milkweed? There is a variety-- Tropical Milkweed, also known as Mexican Milkweed ( Asclepias Curassavica) --that is not native to the U.S. at all but has been introduced to the warmer areas. Here's a link to milkweed species by area --scroll down because CA is at the bottom of the page.
https: //monarchjointventure.org/images/uploads/documents/MilkweedFactSheetFINAL.pdf

butterfly plants

hi. i absolutely love butterflies was just wondering can I plant them in a pot on my deck

Hi Donna,

Hi Donna,
I believe the Coneflower plants can be kept in pots. If you want to attract the Monarch butterfly caterpillar, (by having butterflies lay eggs on the plant) SWAMP Milkweed (Asclepias Incarnata) is one of the better varieties for pots. Internet may be best place to look because not too many local nurseries carry it--at least in my area. Just make sure the plant hasn't been sprayed with anything otherwise the chemicals will kill the caterpillars.

Butterflies

Last year, I had Vanilla scented Heliotrope in my garden,
I never had so many Butterflies, I don't know if it was just a
coincidence but those plants were attracting more butterflies than all the other flowers

Sunbeam Bidens

I found this plant at Walmart of all places, and has attracted many butterflies. It blooms continually from Spring until mid Fall. I planted only one plant and it's now 2' x 2'. It will definitely be on my to-grow list next Spring.

Milkweed

Do you have to leave the entire milkweed plant over the winter? I bought plants last fall that bloomed and I kept seed. I was told the plants would put back out from the root. Mine didn't so I had to replant from seedlings from the seeds we kept.

Milkweed

Hi Bruce,

Yes, milkweed should come back after the winter on its own, but it’s a slow growing plant and will sometimes be out-grown by faster growing ones.

Butterfly plants

No one mentioned oregano as a butterfly plant. We discovered its attraction to both butterflies and bees quite by accident, having planted a few common oregano plants as ornamentals. The oregano plants themselves are easy to grow - they love the sun, don't require a lot of water, and reseed easily. Since we don't harvest the leaves for cooking (you can consume them, they are just not the Greek variety), we can allow the plants to grow tall and flower into beautiful, purple, butterfly attracting flowers. Oregano will reseed almost anywhere and become invasive, even in the lawn, however, if there is an open corner in the garden needing to be filled, oregano may fit the bill.

Butterfly Garden

Hello. I want to plant a butterfly garden. Can you tell me where I could find seeds and plants that are good for my region? I live in Fremont, Ohio. Thank you.

stores near you

You can find a list of butterfly plants above. As for stores that sell them, we would simply suggest that you consult the major home-goods/building supply chain stores, nurseries, and groceries in your area.

Swallowtail Butterflys Host Plant;

I am happy to see a Swallowtail Butterfly uses "Parsley" as a Host Plant for eggs/caterpillars; I see the occasional Swallowtail here in Conn.; planting parsley is a crop anyone can grow!!! : )

Plants that attract butterflies

Dill (loved by many varieties of caterpillars) particularly Monarchs; also fennel.

Dill

The Butterfly lay the eggs on the Dill; then the eggs hatch; the butterfly eats Dill Parsley or Milkweed; great news; Question; Would I have to keep the Dill plants up in the winter; or are the eggs and caterpillars atched and grown to fly away as Butterflies? the eggs do not overwinter?;

Butterflies in Winter

In colder climates, most butterflies will overwinter as caterpillars or pupae. Unless you’re in a climate where butterflies are active year-round, there’s no need for you to try to maintain your dill through the winter, as caterpillars will be dormant and won’t be feeding. They will awaken in the spring, feast on the dill, and become beautiful butterflies that will start the cycle over again!

Planting Dill for Butterflies;

I am amazed these Butterfly (Caterpillars) like to feast on Dill as they mature; think of all the Butterfly eggs hiding under leaves; Dill is so fragrant as a Spice; I read the Parsley to attract Swallowtails is the "green curly moss type"; I cannot wait to being my Butterfly Patch; :); A.R.

butterfly plants

Just wanted to add that Fire Bush is an excellent nectar plant for butterflies and hummingbirds in the southeast.

Species listed as invasive

Can you tell me which of these species is relevant to Upstate New York?

butterfly plants

Here are good butterfly perennials which also grow well in upstate New York: Bee Balm, Black Eyed Susan, Joe Pye Weed, Milkweed, New England Aster, Phlox, Goldenrod, Purple Coneflower, Sedum.

Butterfly shrubs or bushes

I live in New Orleans and want to replace the bushes outside the kitchen bay window with shrubs/bushes that will attract butterflies. Nothing that grows over 4-5 feet preferred.Was going to buy butterfly bush until I read many articles saying how invasive it is etc.... Also curious what other flowering plants would be good besides Pentas for other areas in the yard.

Shrubs for New Orleans

Vitex Shoal Creek is a butterfly magnet that can be trained as a large shrub (but must be kept pruned). Henry’s Garnet Virginia willow is a native shrub that attract pollinators. Here is a list of great shrubs that are native and hardy to your area: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/portals/our_offices/research_stations/hammond... Your local cooperative extension should be able to provide more details and on-the-ground advice!

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