Plants that Attract Butterflies

Grow Your Own Butterfly Garden

April 13, 2021
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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, dill, and asters.

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
Dill Anethum
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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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.

I have never had them them

I have never had them them spread in Arkansas either. Before you completely write-off the buddleia, find out if they are invasive in your area. They certainly aren't invasive everywhere. Frankly, I wouldn't mind a few volunteers coming up once in awhile.

Mideastern NJ: To assist in

Mideastern NJ: To assist in the desperately declining numbers of Monarch butterflies, would like to urge every NJ garden to have some version of milkweed. The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is 5-6 ft and spreads quickly. It is milkweed of choice but is better in meadows or a section of isolated sun/part shade garden. Better for home gardens is Ascelpias tuberosa, "Butterfly Weed", a brilliant orange, 20-28" height, visited by all pollinators, often hosting a bunch of our favorite cheerful Monarch caterpillars. For new timers, Asclepias curassavica, "Tropical Milkweed" with beautiful red-yellow blossoms, 18-24", is annual in our area. Purple milkweed (purpurascens)is a more manageable, shorter version of Common milkweed, with lovely purple blossoms. And Asclepias Incarnata (Swamp or Marsh milkweed) is a more elegant 4-5 ft. shrub if you have room and part shade. Harvest the seed pods or cut the flowers as they fade to eliminate seed disbursement of all your milkweed. All produce flowers to feed your bees and butterflies. Your gardens will be humming and buzzing happily mid-spring to early summer with pollinators. Sadly, have not yet spotted a single Monarch, or any eggs or caterpillars on a 2 acre property with large milkweed beds.

Good

Good

I have lived in Northern VA

I have lived in Northern VA and now live in the eastern panhandle of WV and have yet to see my butterfly bushes propagate in the 20 years that I have had them. Honeysuckle, the vine, on the other hand is very invasive. Have not noticed that about the honeysuckle bush. Here, I would call milkweed and thistles invasive as well as mimosa trees.

I am a wildlife ecologist,

I am a wildlife ecologist, and member of the Board of ALIPC--Alabama Invasive Plant Council. Whenever I visit a site like this one, I nearly always see butterfly bush listed as a good butterfly plant. It is not only an exotic plant, it is an invasive plant in many states. So is Lonicera unless you specify L.flava, or L. sempervirens. To simply say "honeysuckle" is inviting trouble to all our natural ecosystems, which are being blighted by these invaders. The yellow honeysuckles are invaders from Asia.

Thanks for sharing that

Thanks for sharing that information so that we won't inadvertently do something that would be harmful in the long run.

I'm glad you mention the

I'm glad you mention the invasiveness of certain butterfly bushes. I've had one in the past that really took over. So it is something that people need to consider before they buy one. Check out which variety.

Where on that list do you see

Where on that list do you see Lonicera or Honeysuckle???? Why make any negative comments on plants that aren't even on the list???

They said "butterfly bush"

They said "butterfly bush" first.....

The native/invasive issue is

The native/invasive issue is a separate one. Butterflies don't care if a plant is native or not and they do like buddleia blooms. In CT, they don't seem to be invasive: I have 3 in my small suburban garden for 5 or 6 years and never had a single offspring. My sister in the mid-Atlantic region found that to be more of a probem.

I have had many butterfly

I have had many butterfly bushes and they are NOT invasive at all in my area--Florida.

I work for nursery/garden

I work for nursery/garden center in northern NJ. and many of my customers reported this past winter (2014)killed their butterfly bushes; Buddleia are only hardy in planting zone 7 and below and we are in zone 6) When planting for butterfliies, indigenous plant species per region are the best bet.

I live in Colorado (zone 5).

I live in Colorado (zone 5). I have 9 butterfly bushes that come back every year from the ground. They spring up later than most plants and seem to be dead but aren't. I get lots of butterflies and hummingbirds. Cut them down to a foot and be patient, very drought tolerant. Indigenous plants are best,but not much grows here, unless I only want weeds.I do have some milkweed.

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