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!*


butterfly gardens, plants, and flowers

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!

 

#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.

 

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.

 

 

 


1. Aster

aster flower

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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

best plants for butterflies

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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. 

 

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

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

monarch butterfly on cone flower

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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

cosmos butterfly flowers

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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

goldenrod for butterflies

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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

host plants for butterflies - 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

swallow tail on 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

best plants and flowers for butterflies

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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

swallowtail on lupine flowers

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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.

 

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

swamp milkweed for monarch butterflies

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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

annual pansy plant for butterfly

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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

phlox flower to attract butterflies

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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.

 

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

best plants for butterflies

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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

plants that attract butterflies and moths

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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. In fact, many on the list can be ordered and shipped from Amazon, and I include a link whenever possible.

 

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.

 


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.

hardiness zone for hummingbird and butterfly flowers

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.

 

What are your favorite plants to use that attract butterflies?

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