Butterflies are drawn to certain types of flowers due to the nectar and pollen the flowers provide. By understanding what attracts butterflies, gardeners can plant flowers specifically to draw in these beautiful winged insects. Some of the most popular flowers that attract butterflies include lantana, bee balm, cosmos, zinnia, butterfly bush, lavender, verbena, daisies, coneflower, asters, and marigolds. The color, shape, and scent of the flowers all play a role in enticing butterflies.
Flowers That Attract Butterflies
Here is an overview of some of the top flowers that attract butterflies:
|Lantana||Red, orange, yellow, pink, purple||Spring, summer, fall||1-4 feet|
|Bee Balm||Red, pink, purple, white||Early to mid summer||2-4 feet|
|Cosmos||Pink, purple, white, orange||Summer, fall||2-4 feet|
|Zinnia||All colors||Summer, fall||1-3 feet|
|Butterfly Bush||Pink, purple, white||Summer||5-12 feet|
|Lavender||Purple||Spring, summer||1-3 feet|
|Verbena||Red, pink, purple, white||Spring, summer, fall||6 inches – 2 feet|
|Daisies||White, yellow, pink, purple||Spring, summer, fall||1-3 feet|
|Coneflower||Purple, pink, white, yellow||Summer||2-4 feet|
|Asters||Purple, pink, white||Late summer, fall||1-4 feet|
|Marigolds||Yellow, orange, red||Spring, summer, fall||6 inches – 3 feet|
As you can see, there are many flower varieties that can attract butterflies to your garden. The most popular tend to bloom during the warm summer months and come in bright, vivid colors like red, orange, pink, purple, and yellow.
Why These Flowers Attract Butterflies
There are a few key reasons why the flowers listed above are so attractive to butterflies:
Nectar – Butterflies drink the nectar from flowers as a food source. The flowers that produce abundant nectar will be the most attractive. Flowers with multiple small florets packed into dense clusters seem to be favorites.
Color – Brightly colored flowers will catch the eye of passing butterflies. Orange, yellow, red, pink, and purple flowers are especially appealing.
Scent – Many butterflies locate flowers by scent. The fragrant compounds that flowers produce guide butterflies towards them.
Shape – Flowers with wide, flat petals and short flower tubes allow butterflies easier access to nectar with their long, thin proboscis.
Bloom Time – Flowers that bloom from spring through fall provide butterflies with a constant nectar source for months at a time.
By choosing flowers that have these characteristics, you can create a stunning butterfly garden oasis. Planting specific native flowers that butterflies favor will also support local butterfly populations.
Best Planting Practices
Here are some useful tips for planting a garden to attract butterflies:
– Plant flowers in open sunny locations with shelters from wind. Butterflies prefer warmth and protection.
– Use clusters or drifts of the same flower. Mass plantings will attract more butterflies than isolated single plants.
– Include flowers of different heights for variety. Taller backdrops with shorter flowers in front create an appealing display.
– Mix early, mid, and late season bloomers. This provides nectar all season long as different flowers come into bloom.
– Allow some flowers to go to seed. This gives butterflies food sources as caterpillars.
– Include flat rocks or gravel. These provide basking spots where butterflies can warm themselves in the sun.
– Supply a shallow water source. Butterflies will come for a drink as well as nourishment from flowers.
– Avoid pesticides. Chemicals can be lethal to butterflies and their young caterpillars. Go organic.
By incorporating these methods into your planting strategy, you will have the best success at encouraging butterflies to take up residence in your garden. Choosing the right flowers is the first step.
Regional Butterfly Attracting Flowers
The types of flowers that will attract butterflies varies across different climates and geographical regions. Here are some top regional butterfly flowers:
Northeast US – Common milkweed, purple coneflower, bee balm, asters, goldenrod, joe pye weed
Southeast US – Lantana, pentas, porterweed, passionflower, ironweed, butterfly weed
Midwest US – Black-eyed susans, blazing star, swamp milkweed, asters, bergamot, coneflowers
Southwest US – Desert marigold, devil’s claw, desert willow, ruellia, chuparosa, penstemon
Pacific Northwest – Blanketflower, fireweed, giant hyssop, early blue violet, red columbine, yarrow
California – Cleveland sage, California lilac, Matilija poppy, salvia, sea lavender, tidytips
Be sure to research the native plants and wildflowers in your specific region. Local native plants will usually attract more butterflies than exotic imported varieties. Consult with a local nursery for the best site-specific options.
Exotic Butterfly Attracting Flowers
While native regional flowers are ideal, some exotic imported flowers also entice butterflies. Here are a few top exotic picks:
– Lantana – Dense clusters of small tubular florets in bright warm colors. Originally from tropical regions.
– Pentas – Prolific star-shaped flowers in red, pink, white and purple. Native to tropical Africa.
– Buddleia (Butterfly Bush) – Long fragrant flower spikes. Native to Asia and Africa. Many hybrid varieties.
– Tithonia (Mexican sunflower) – Vibrant orange-red daisy-like flowers. Native to Mexico and Central America.
– Verbena – Profuse clusters of tiny 5-petaled flowers. Many hybrids available. Originally from Americas.
– Salvia (Sage) – Densely packed edible flowers in red, white, purple, pink. From Europe and Americas.
While exotics have a place in butterfly gardens, try to focus more heavily on regional native plants. Check for species that may become invasive in your area and avoid planting those. Target plants suited for your specific USDA hardiness zone.
Plants to Avoid
When designing your butterfly garden, there are some plants it’s best to exclude. Here are some to avoid:
– Invasive species that spread aggressively by seed or rhizomes
– Plants toxic to butterflies such as azaleas, digitalis, rue, larkspur, or lupine
– Plants with strong scents that deter butterflies like lavandin, citronella, catmint
– Double-bloom flowers that block nectar access like double lilacs or hollyhocks
– Non-native milkweed that can harm local monarch populations
– Pesticide treated plants
Carefully research any plants before purchase to make sure they are not invasive or toxic. Ask garden center staff for help selecting the most ecologically safe options for your area.
Flowering Shrubs and Trees
In addition to traditional flowering garden plants, some shrubs and trees also attract butterflies. Consider incorporating these into your landscape:
– Butterfly Bush – Popular flowering shrub with cone-shaped blooms. Many cultivars available.
– Buttonbush – Fragrant rounded shrub with dense white flower balls. Attracts many butterfly species.
– Hawthorn – Small flowering tree with clusters of white or pink flowers in spring. Provides fruit food source.
– Butterfly Weed Tree – Tropical tree with cascading yellow blooms. Attracts sulphurs and skippers.
– Blue Porterweed – Tropical shrub with vivid blue or purple flowers. Loved by huge swallowtail butterflies.
– Abelia – Arching shrub with tubular bell-shaped flowers. Blooms spring to fall in white or pink.
– Wild Lilac – Hardy shrub with abundantly fragrant white flower spikes in spring. Draws in blues and coppers.
These are just a few of the shrubs and trees to consider that will complement the herbaceous flowering plants in your butterfly garden.
Consider Plant Height
When designing your butterfly garden, make sure to include flowers of varying heights. This creates an appealing tiered effect with taller backdrops and shorter plants in front. Here are suggested height levels to utilize:
– Background plants: 5-7 feet tall
Ex: Buddleia, joe pye weed, butterfly weed tree
– Mid-level plants: 2-4 feet tall
Ex: Coneflowers, lantana, verbena
– Front plants: 1 foot or under
Ex: Marigolds, creeping thyme, verbena, zinnias
– Ground cover: 6 inches or under
Ex: Creeping phlox, sedum, thyme, violas
Using plants of different heights and growth habits ensures your garden will have visual interest and depth. The tallest plants belong in the back so they don’t shade the other flowers. Front edge plants and groundcovers prevent the look of empty bare mulch around garden edges.
Flower Colors and Butterflies
Certain butterfly species are attracted to specific flower colors. Here are some of the correlations:
– Monarchs, fritillaries, sulphurs like red, orange, and yellow flowers. Ex: lantana, zinnias, marigolds.
– Swallowtails prefer pinks and purples. Ex: coneflowers, lilac, pentas.
– Hairstreaks, coppers, blues like lighter lavender, white, yellow flowers. Ex: daisies, verbena, yarrow.
– Skippers and many other species enjoy composite flowers like daisies, coneflowers, and asters.
By including a diverse palette of flower colors in the garden you will appeal to the widest range of passing butterflies. Mix and match different hues in aesthetic color groupings.
Flower Shapes for Butterflies
The shape of the flower also influences its attractiveness to butterflies. Some key factors:
– Flatter flowers with wide surface area allow easier nectar and pollen access. Ex: daisies, lobelia, flat chrysanthemums.
– Densely clustered tiny flowers provide more nectaring opportunities. Ex: verbena, lantana, bee balm.
– Short, straight flower tubes are preferred over long or curved ones. Ex: zinnias vs. petunias.
– Double blooms are pretty but make nectar access difficult for butterflies. Ex: double hollyhocks or roses.
– Composite flower heads with many tiny disk and ray flowers are butterfly magnets. Ex: sunflowers, coneflowers, asters.
Flowers with clustered, flat-faced, open shapes seem most attractive to butterflies based on these factors. Avoid tubular or obstructed flowers.
Fragrance is another characteristic that helps lure in butterflies. Flowers that are highly aromatic include:
– Butterfly bush
– Mint family plants
– Hyacinth bean vine
– Cape honeysuckle
– Sweet alyssum
– Star jasmine
– Moonflower vine
Plant these and other fragrant flowers near paths, seating areas, open windows, or anywhere you would like to enjoy their wonderful scents. Night blooming flowers will perfume the evening air.
Flowers by Season
To have flowers blooming spring through fall, be sure to include a selection of early, mid, and late season bloomers:
Spring – bulbs like crocus, grape hyacinth, native wildflowers, bleeding heart, coral bells, columbine
Early Summer – peonies, iris, bee balm, catmint, salvia, allium, lamb’s ear, blanket flower
Mid Summer – coneflowers, black-eyed susans, gaillardia, rudbeckia, coreopsis, milkweed
Late Summer – zinnias, cosmos, echinacea, pentas, turbo, verbena, asters, mums
Fall – sedum, asters, solidago, anemone, sage, Japanese anemone, gaura
Plan ahead to ensure you have continuous blooms throughout the butterfly season in your region. Consult local resources on bloom times.
Native Plants for Butterflies
Native plants specifically adapted to your local ecology are some of the very best for attracting native butterflies. Here are top examples:
Northeast – milkweeds, Joe pye weed, goldenrod, asters, bee balm
Southeast – passionflower, ironweed, mistflower, blue porterweed, bloodflower
Midwest – prairie blazing star, hoary vervain, coneflowers, rattlesnake master, Culver’s root
Southwest – sagebrush, rabbitbrush, Apache plume, desert marigold, agave
Northwest – western columbine, blanketflower, giant hyssop, fireweed, false indigo
California – sages, California lilac, buckwheat, tidytips, matilija poppy
Research native plants thriving in wild areas near your region. These co-evolved with local butterflies and provide vital food sources.
Garden Design for Butterflies
When planning your garden layout, keep these butterfly-friendly design tips in mind:
– Site in a sunny, sheltered spot protected from wind
– Include a shallow water source like a bird bath, fountain, or pebble filled saucer
– Plan for a continuous bloom sequence from spring to fall
– Use irregular “drifts” of plants rather than straight rows
– Allow some plants to go to seed for caterpillars
– Include overwintering shelter sites such as leaf litter or brush piles
– Place large stones for basking perches in sunny spots
– Mix flower colors and heights for visual interest
– Include regional native nectar and caterpillar host plants
Creating a sanctuary that meets the needs of butterflies takes knowledge and planning. Proper garden design will help you succeed in attracting a bounty of butterflies.
Attracting Specific Butterflies
You can target certain butterfly species by including their favorite flower nectar sources and caterpillar host plants. Here are some examples:
Monarch – milkweeds, asters, ironweed, Joe pye weed
Swallowtail – carrots, fennel, parsley, dill, rue
Painted Lady – cosmos, daisies, marigolds, thistles
Red Admiral – rotting fruit, sap flows, wet mud
Buckeye – snapdragon, plantain, vetch, verbena
Skipper – grasses, asters, coneflower, milkweed
Identify your target species then select the preferred nectar plants and larval hosts that attract them. This tailored approach works best.
Benefits of Butterfly Gardens
Creating habitats filled with butterfly-friendly flowers has many beneficial impacts:
– Provides essential food and habitat for butterflies
– Supports biodiversity by attracting a range