Plants that attract butterflies

Ranging in size from a few containers placed in a sunny spot to several acres, butterfly gardens can be grown throughout the United States. Throughout the country, the general requirements for butterfly gardening are the same: full sun, nectar source plants, larval host plants, a pesticide-free environment and knowledge of the local butterfly fauna.

Nectar-producing plants will attract butterflies to your garden. Many nectar-producing plants are native species which require little attention, as they are naturally adapted to the region in which they live. One of the most common mistakes in butterfly gardening is planting only one nectar source. Adult butterflies have a very short lifespan. Planting a variety of nectar sources will encourage more butterflies to visit the garden.

But, in order to support a full butterfly life cycle, host plants (for laying eggs and use as a caterpillar food source) must also be present. Planting an adequate supply of host plants gives butterflies a place to lay their eggs, which will successfully hatch and result in butterflies that will continue to visit the garden.

Butterflies typically lay their eggs in late spring, and the eggs hatch 3–6 days after they are laid. It takes 3–4 weeks for a caterpillar to pupate and 9–14 days to emerge as an adult.

Butterfly gardens are best planted in the spring with younger plants or in the fall with mature plants that will become dormant quickly and re-emerge in the spring. It is best not to plant in the heat of summer or the cold of winter.

Good resources for learning more about butterfly gardening include zoos, botanical gardens, butterfly houses, garden centers and nurseries, libraries and the internet. There are many good websites dedicated to butterflies and butterfly gardening.



Plant your garden in full sun
Plants, especially flowering plants, need sun to make food for themselves and nectar for butterflies.  Butterflies also need sun to warm their bodies for flight.

Plant butterfly-attracting flowers
Butterflies are attracted to flowers with strong scents and bright colors where they drink sweet, energy-rich nectar. Select plants that are native to your area and they will attract local butterflies.

Include host plants in your garden
Butterflies lay their eggs on host plants that the emerging caterpillars will eat. The sight of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis will more than make up for the chewed leaves.

Use colorful plants
Butterflies see more colors than humans do. They seem to prefer red, orange, yellow, purple and dark pink. A large, colorful garden is easy for butterflies to find and encourages them to stay longer.

Don't use chemical pesticides
Pesticides kill butterflies, caterpillars and other useful insects.  Try these methods instead: 

  • plant marigolds, petunias, mint and other herbs that naturally repel pests
  • encourage ladybugs and dragonflies to dine in your garden
  • wash pests away with insecticidal soap.

Spring azure butterflyLearn about native butterflies
Each butterfly has a favorite nectar plant and needs a specific host plant where it will lay eggs.  Learn about local butterflies, so you can provide the right match of plants to make your garden a popular hangout.

Sit back and enjoy the butterflies
You've set the stage; now watch the show. You won't be disappointed.


Butterfly Attracting Plants

Common Name Scientific Name
Goldenrod Solidago sp.
Black-Eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta
Beebalm Monarda fistulosa or Monarda bradburiana
Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa
Egyptian Star Flower Pentas lanceolata
Ironweed Veronia baldwinii
Joe-Pye Weed Eupatorium purpureum
Lantana Lantana camara
Indian Pink Spigelia marilandica
New England Aster Aster novae-angliae
Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea
Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata
Blazing Star Liatris spp.
Vervain Verbena spp.
Zinnia Zinnia elegans
Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis
New Jersey Tea Ceanothus americanus
Beardtongues Penstemon sp.
Obedient Plant Physostegia virginiana
Blue Sage Salvia azurea
Blanket Flower Gaillardia sp.
Golden Alexander Zizia sp.
Yarrow Achillea millefolium
Mountain Mmints Pycnanthemum sp.
Culver's Root Ceronicastrum virginicum
Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum
Rose Mallow Hibiscus lasiocarpos
Purple Prairie Clover Dalea purpurea
Royal Catchfly Silene regia
Phlox Phlox sp.
Downy Skullcap Scutellaria incana


Host Plants & the Butterflies They Attract

Host Plant  Butterfly
Willow (Salix spp.) Red Spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis)
Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)
Hop Tree (Ptelea trifoliata) Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)
Senna (Cassia spp.) Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) Monarch (Danaus plexippus)