Plants that Attract Butterflies

Grow Your Own Butterfly Garden

April 13, 2020
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.

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.

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed.
A monarch caterpillar feasting on 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 sp.
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 our article 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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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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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!

Butterfly plants

Butterflies love lantana.

Gardening and Butterflys

I noticed you don't include Pentas for attracting butterflys. I've used them for a long time and the buttterflys use them much.

Hi Leon,

The Editors's picture

Hi Leon,

Yes, pentas are great for both butterflies and hummingbirds. We will add to the list.

 

 

Seeds for Butterfly garden Charlotte NC

HI I am looking to create a butterfly garden and I live in Charlotte NC. Please let me know where I can get the seeds and what are the plants appropriate to this region.

Creating a Butterfly Garden

The Editors's picture

This is a wonderful idea! We would suggesting going to wildflower.org to find the plants that are native to your region. They have a native plant database. And here is a wonderful article on their Web site: http://www.wildflower.org/howto/show.php?id=29

florida buterflies

what is the best plant to attract butterflies in southern florida?

Plant to attract butterflies in FL

I have several Lantana throughout my flower garden, the butterflies are always on them!

butterflies

I want a garden that has a lot of nature's little creatures . I have milkweed seeds planted. I would love a butterfly garden. Jo Ann

do u guys take the

do u guys take the pictures???? they r good! nice info too!!!!

Thanks, Triny. We take some

The Editors's picture

Thanks, Triny. We take some photos ourselves, find some great photos in the Almanac archives, and find some on stock. We feature some reader photos, too. A mix!  

Sorry to be critical but if

Sorry to be critical but if you want butterflies you need host plants they lay their eggs on abd tjose are mostly regional natives. Butterflies come from caterpillars. Nectar is nice but butterfly bush is an exotic and not likely to help butterflies with reproduction. Think about their entire lifecycle. Egg, caterpilkarn pupae, butterfly, egg,...

Thank you, Ramona! You are

The Editors's picture

Thank you, Ramona! You are absolutely correct! The article above only focuses on food for many adult butterflies, but it is important to consider all stages if one wants to sustain a butterfly garden. Combine host plants and nectar plants tailored to certain species (some are more fussy than others--and some adults prefer other foods, such as rotten fruit), choose the right location (a sunny, sheltered spot), provide other features to make them feel at home (such as moist areas for "puddling," flat stones where they can perch), and avoid the use of pesticides.
We've revised the copy in the above article to make this clearer.
You might be interested in this article that talks about butterfly gardening in more detail:
http://www.almanac.com/blog/ga...

Is there any way to attract

Is there any way to attract butterfly from the tropical forest

I'm sorry, Farmer's Almanac,

I'm sorry, Farmer's Almanac, for my previous comment. However, I was not attacking you. Rather, I was trying to defend you. I was attacking the troll who was attacking your website. I think your website is great and very informative!

No worries. In fact, thank

The Editors's picture

No worries. In fact, thank you. You demonstrate what being part of a community is all about. We deleted the other post because of the profanity and appreciate that you brought it to our attention.

That's what's so nice about

That's what's so nice about being part of a community… we care. :-)

When I was a kid my

When I was a kid my grandmother would plant parsley in a flowerbed. I grew up in southwestern Louisiana and remember watching the Monarch butterflies that would propagate on it. It was fascinating. This plant doesn't appear on the list. Does anybody else know anything about this happening or was it an aberration that only happens in the bayou area?

The list above is for nectar

The Editors's picture

The list above is for nectar plants only, which the adult butterflies like to feed on. Parsley, however, is an excellent host plant for swallowtails; adult butterflies like to lay eggs on it, so that the hatching larvae may eat the plant for food. Eventually, they will form a chrysalis and turn into an adult butterfly. It is fascinating to see them develop.

I have read that the

I have read that the swallowtail butterfly likes curly parsley as opposed to italian parsley.

Sorry hate to sounds dumb but

Sorry hate to sounds dumb but do you mean the actual parsley plant or the parsley you cook with?? :)

The actual parsley plant as

The Editors's picture

The actual parsley plant as it is growing in the garden (although the caterpillars will eat picked parsley as well). You might see a swallowtail caterpillar on one of the stems, munching on leaves. Later, it will form a chrysalis (pupa) hanging off a branch. For photos of the various stages, see:
 
http://queenbjan.com/swallowta...

I too was told to use

I too was told to use parsley. So with that in mind let's use parsley.

Actually, parsley attracts

Actually, parsley attracts the Black Swallowtail butterfly, as does dill. They lay their eggs on it. It happens where ever the swallowtail resides.

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