Plants That Attract Butterflies

Monarch butterfly

 

A butterfly garden is simply a flower garden that is designed to include nectar-rich flowers that butterflies love to visit. The ideal garden is one that supports both the adults and larvae, by offering a wide variety plants, grasses, and wildflowers. By providing the right mix of flowers, shelter, water, and sun it is easy to attract and sustain butterfly populations so they feel at home.

Life Cycle

Butterflies go through a distinct series of life cycles: egg, larvae, pupa, and adult. Most butterflies only have one life cycle per year and as adults may live for only two to three weeks. During this brief period, they have high-energy demands to find a mate, reproduce, seek out food and shelter, and find nourishing nectar for fuel for all these activities. Requirements will also vary from species to species.

Butterfly larvae (caterpillar stage), on the other hand, depend solely on certain plant species for food. Host plants range from annuals and perennials to trees and shrubs. While most larvae have voracious appetites, they only feed on a few plant species and any leaf damage is usually short-lived and non-threatening to the plant so it’s well worth the effort.

 

Factors that contribute to the success of a butterfly garden

Get to know what butterflies are in your area.

Locate your garden in a sunny area. Flowers that need sunlight attract more butterflies.

Landscape your garden in an area with flowers butterflies prefer. Many butterflies prefer plants with clusters of short tubular flowers.

Use large swaths of color. Butterflies are attracted to flowers by their color, so planting in masses of flowers make it easier for them to find that single plantings.

Provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season. Butterflies are active from spring into late fall, but mid-to late-blooming season flowers are when butterflies are most active.

Provide food for your butterfly caterpillars. To increase the number of butterflies in your garden, include plants that are larval hosts (plants on which caterpillars feed).

Include shallow watering areas. Many butterflies drink from moist soil or shallow puddles, sometimes forming large groups called puddle clubs.

Provide sheltered, shady areas. Butterflies often need cool-down areas in hot weather and need protection from wind, rain and predators.

Use pesticides cautiously. Butterflies are easily killed by insecticides. Try using non-chemical methods of pest control, such as removing infected plants.

Some butterflies do not feed on nectar of flowers but prefer ripe fruit, sap flows, and carrion. Provide overripe melon rinds and fruit to the butterfly garden.

 

Suggested Plants for the Butterfly Garden

(*indicates plant native to the Midwest;  **indicates some species native to Midwest and some not)

TREES & SHRUBS

Amelanchier canadensis (Canada Serviceberry), A. x grandiflora (Apple Serviceberry), A. laevis* (Allegheny Serviceberry):

Larval host for:  Striped Hairstreak

Betula lenta (Sweet Birch), Betula nigra* (River Birch), Betula populifolia (Gray Birch):

Larval host for: Tiger Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak, Compton Tortoiseshell            

Butterflies attracted:  Northern Pearly Eye (sap)

Buddleja davidii  (Butterfly Bush):

Butterflies attracted:  Monarch, Buckeye, Black Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail, Pipevine Swallowtail , Snout Butterfly, Great Spangled Fritillary, Pearl Crescent,  Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Common Checkered-Skipper, Nymphalids  

Carpinus** spp. (Hornbeam):

Larval host for: Red-Spotted Purple        

Carya* spp. (Hickory):

Larval host for: Banded Hairstreak           

Ceanothus americanus* (New Jersey Tea):

Larval host for: Spring Azure      

Butterflies attracted: Spring Azure, Coral Hairstreak, Striped Hairstreak, Edward’s Hairstreak, Banded Hairstreak, Acadian Hairstreak

Celtis occidentalis* (Hackberry):             

Larval host for: Hackberry Butterfly, Question Mark, Mourning Cloak, Snout Butterfly, Tawny Emperor

Cephalanthus occidentalis* (Buttonbush):

Butterflies attracted: Tiger Swallowtail, Painted Lady, Silver-Spotted Skipper

Clethra alnifolia (Summersweet):

Butterflies attracted:  Wide variety including Swallowtails

Cornus alternifolia* (Pagoda Dogwood), C. kousa (Kousa Dogwood), C. mas (Cornelian-Cherry Dogwood):

Larval host for: Spring/Summer Azure   

Butterflies attracted: Snout Butterfly

Cornus sericea* (Red-Osier Dogwood):

Larval host for: Spring Azure

Crataegus crus-galli* (Cockspur Hawthorn), C. viridi*s (Green Hawthorn):

Larval host for: Striped Hairstreak, Red-Spotted Purple 

Gleditsia triacanthos* var. inermis (Honey Locust):

Larval host for: Silver-Spotted Skipper

Hamamelis virginiana* (Common Witch-Hazel):

Larval host for: Spring Azure      

Hydrangea paniculata (Panicle Hydrangea):

Butterflies attracted: Monarch 

Lindera benzoin* (Spicebush):

Larval host for:  Spicebush Swallowtail   

Juglans nigra* (Black Walnut):

Larval host for: Banded Hairstreak           

Liriodendron tulipifera* (Tulip-Tree):

Larval host for: Tiger Swallowtail              

Lonicera spp. (Honeysuckle):

Butterflies attracted: Giant Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Silver-Spotted Skipper

Malus** spp. (Apple, Crabapple):

Larval host for:  Spring Azure, Viceroy Red-Spotted Purple, Tiger Swallowtail      

Populus** spp., Populus tremuloides* (Cottonwood, Poplar, Quaking Aspen):

Larval host for:  Viceroy, Red-Spotted Purple, Mourning Cloak, White Admiral, Striped Hairstreak             

Butterflies attracted:  Northern Pearly Eye (sap)

Prunus** spp., Prunus serotina* (Cherry, Plum, Wild Black Cherry):

Larval host for: Tiger Swallowtail, Coral Hairstreak, Striped Hairstreak, Spring Azure, White Admiral, Red Spotted Purple, Viceroy

Quercus** spp. (Oak):

Larval host for: Striped Hairstreak, Edward’s Hairstreak, Banded Hairstreak         

Rhododendron spp. (Azalea):

Butterflies attracted: Giant Swallowtail, Pipevine Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail

Salix** spp. (Willow):

Larval host for:  Striped Hairstreak, Red-Spotted Purple, Viceroy, Mourning Cloak, Tiger Swallowtail, Compton Tortoiseshell

Butterflies attracted:  Mourning Cloak, Northern Pearly Eye (sap)

Syringa vulgaris (Common Lilac):

Butterflies attracted: Pipevine Swallowtail, Monarch, Swallowtails, Nymphalids

Tilia americana* (American Linden):    

Larval host for: Question Mark  

Ulmus hybrids (Hybrid Elms):   

Larval host for: Mourning Cloak, Question Mark, Comma             

Viburnum dentatum* (Arrowwood Viburnum):

Larval host for: Hummingbird Moth

Butterflies attracted: Red Admiral, Question Mark

Viburnum lentago* (Nannyberry Viburnum): 

Larval host for: Spring Azure

Butterflies attracted: Red Admiral, Question Mark

Zanthoxylum americanum* (Prickly Ash):

Larval host for: Giant Swallowtail             

 

PERENNIALS

Achillea** spp. (Yarrow):

Butterflies attracted: American Copper, Coppers, Hairstreaks, Skippers

Agastache foeniculum* (Anise Hyssop):

Butterflies attracted: Red Admiral, Monarch, Painted Lady, Buckeye, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell,  Pipevine Swallowtail, Sulphur

Amorpha canescens* (Lead Plant):

Larval host for: Dog Face Sulphur             

Butterflies attracted: Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Fritillaries, Sulphur, Blues

Anaphalis margaritacea* (Pearly Everlasting):

Larval host for:  American Lady

Asclepias incarnata* (Swamp Milkweed):         

Larval host for: Monarch              

Butterflies attracted:  Monarch, Edward’s Hairstreak, Banded Hairstreak, Acadian Hairstreak, Gray Hairstreak, Eastern Tailed-Blue, Great Spangled Fritillary

Asclepias syriaca* (Common Milkweed):           

Larval host for: Monarch              

Butterflies attracted:  Monarch, Coral Hairstreak,  Striped Hairstreak,  Edward’s Hairstreak, Banded Hairstreak, Acadian Hairstreak, Eastern Tailed-Blue, Black Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Checkered White, American Copper, Great Spangled Fritillary, Pearl Crescent, Silver-Spotted Skipper

Asclepias tuberosa* (Butterfly Weed):

Larval host for:  Monarch             

Butterflies attracted: Monarch, Coral Hairstreak,  Striped Hairstreak,  Edward’s Hairstreak, Banded Hairstreak, Acadian Hairstreak, Eastern Tailed-Blue, Black Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Checkered White, American Copper, Great Spangled Fritillary, Pearl Crescent, Silver-Spotted Skipper

Aster x frikartii (Frikart’s Aster):

Larval host for: Dog Face Sulphur, Orange Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur, Eastern Tailed-Blue             

Butterflies attracted: Buckeye, Viceroy, Checkered White, Painted Lady, Monarch,  Eastern Tailed-Blue Pearl Crescent,  American Painted Lady,  Cloudless Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur,  Common Checkered-Skipper, Hairstreak

Baptisia alba* (Wild White Indigo), B. australis* (False Indigo):

Larval host for: Dog Face Sulphur, Orange Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur, Eastern Tailed-Blue             

Butterflies attracted: Orange Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur, Eastern Tailed-Blue

Carex**  spp. (Sedge)

Larval host for: Little Wood-Satyr            

Centaurea**  spp.           (Cornflower):

Butterflies attracted: Common Checkered-Skipper, Buckeye

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Blue Leadwort)

Butterflies attracted: Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Viceroy, Blues, Sulphur

Chelone lyonii (Pink Turtlehead), C. glabra* (White Turtlehead):

Butterflies attracted: Silver-Spotted Skipper, Spicebush Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail

Coreopsis grandiflora* (Tickseed),  C. lanceolata * (Lanceleaf Coreopsis), C. rosea (Pink Coreopsis), C. verticillata * (Threadleaf Coreopsis):

Larval host for: Silvery Checkerspot Buckeye      

Butterflies attracted: Buckeye, Viceroy, Eastern Tailed-Blue, Spring Azure, Pearl Crescent, Orange Sulfur, American Copper, Red Admiral

Lavandula angustifolia  (English Lavender):

Butterflies attracted: Eastern Tailed-Blue, Monarch, Whites, Swallowtail

Linaria  purpurea (Purple Toadflax):

Larval host for:  Buckeye

Lupinus perennis*  (Wild Lupine): This is the only larval food source for Karner Blue.

Larval host for: Karner Blue 

Rudbeckia hirta * (Black-Eyed Susan), R. laciniata*  (Cut-Leaf Coneflower):

Larval host for:  Silvery Checkerspot

Butterflies attracted: Great Spangled Fritillary, Silver-Bordered Fritillary, Pearl Crescent, Viceroy, Monarch, Blues

Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’ (Butterfly Blue Pincushion Flower):

Butterflies attracted: Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Sulphur, Swallowtails, Whites

Solidago** and Oligoneuron** spp. (Goldenrod):

Larval host for: Baltimore, Silvery Checkerspot

Butterflies attracted: Monarch, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Clouded Sulphur, Viceroy, Gray Hairstreak

Symphyotrichum leave*  (Smooth Blue Aster), S. novae-angliae*  (New England Aster), S.  novi-belgii (New York Aster):

Larval host for: Pearl Crescent, Silvery Checkerspot       

Butterflies attracted: Buckeye, Viceroy, Checkered White, Painted Lady, Monarch,  Eastern Tailed-Blue Pearl Crescent,  American Painted Lady,  Cloudless Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur,  Common Checkered-Skipper, Hairstreak

Symphyotrichum ‘Wood’s Light Blue’ (Wood’s Light Blue Aster):

Larval host for: Baltimore           

Butterflies attracted: Buckeye, Viceroy, Checkered White, Painted Lady, Monarch,  Eastern Tailed-Blue Pearl Crescent,  American Painted Lady,  Cloudless Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur,  Common Checkered-Skipper, Hairstreak

Viola sororia*  & related species** (Violet):

Larval host for: Great Spangled Fritillary, Variegated Fritillary, Aphrodite Fritillary              

Verbena** spp.  (Verbena)

Butterflies attracted: Great Spangled Fritillary, Swallowtail, Sulphur

 

ANNUALS

Alcea spp. (Hollyhock):

Larval host for: American Painted Lady, Painted Lady, Comma, Common Checkered-Skipper

Antirrhinum spp. (Snapdragon):

Larval host for: Buckeye

Centaurea cyanus (Cornflower):

Larval host for: American Painted Lady

Cleome spp. (Spider Flower):

Larval host for:  Checkered White

Echium vulgare (Viper’s Bugloss):

Larval host for: Buckeye

Helianthus spp.  (Sunflower):

Larval host for: Silvery Checkerspot

Impatiens balsamina (Garden Balsam):

Larval host for: American Painted Lady

Lantana camera (Lantana):

Butterflies attracted:  Giant Swallowtail, Pipevine Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Red-spotted Purple, Cloudless Sulphur and Gulf Fritillary

Tropaeolum majus (Common Nasturtium):

Larval host for:  Cabbage White

 

HERBS

Anethum graveolens (Dill):

Larval host for:  Black Swallowtail

Artemisia dracunculus* (Tarragon):

Larval host for: Swallowtails      

Humulus lupulus*  (Common Hops):
Larval host for:  Gray Hairstreak, Question Mark, Red Admiral    

Levisticum officinale (Lovage):

Larval host for:  Black Swallowtail

Mentha** spp. (Mint):

Butterflies attracted: Cabbage White

Origanum vulgare (Oregano):

Butterflies attracted:  Pearl Crescent, Hairstreak

Petroselinum crispum (Parsley):

Larval host for:  Black Swallowtail             

Pimpinella anisum (Common Anise):

Larval host for:  Black Swallowtail             

Ruta graveolens (Common Rue):

Larval host for:  Black Swallowtail, Giant Swallowtail

Salvia officinalis  (Garden Sage):

Butterflies attracted: Swallowtail, Sulphur

 

WEEDS

Boehmeria** spp. (False Nettle):

Larval host for:  Red Admiral      

Cirsium** spp. (Thistles):

Larval host for:  American Painted Lady 

Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s Lace):

Larval host for: Swallowtail

Butterflies attracted: Swallowtail

Rumex acetosella (Sheep Sorrel):

Larval host for:  American Copper

Trifolium spp. (Clover):

Larval host for:  Clouded Sulphur, Eastern Tailed-Blue, Gray Hairstreak  

Urtica**  spp. (Nettle):

Larval host for:  Question Mark, Red Admiral