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The Top 25 Butterfly Garden Plants

...flowers to attract butterflies

 

Float like a butterfly...

Gardeners have hundreds of choices of host plants for butterflies, and we want to help you select the best plants that attract butterflies. We have generated a list of the best flowers that attract butterflies…both nectar sources and butterfly host plants. Here at Plant Delights Nursery we have decades of experience with butterfly gardens and butterfly host plants. Over the last 25 years we have worked with literally thousands of butterfly flowers in our 20 acre garden. Although we garden in the south, the list below of butterfly garden plants is for the entire US and includes butterfly flowers that can be grown in the northeast, midwest, southwest and pacific northwest. Just click on the links below to learn more about each plant and where it can be grown. Each plant will be followed by its food status (Host = host plants for butterflies and caterpillars) (Nectar = Nectar sources for adult butterflies) plus a list of butterfly species attracted to it.

This article is the first in a series on butterfly plants. Jump to the second article entitled: How to Build a Butterfly Garden

List of The Top 25 Butterfly Garden Plants

Image of Sedum 'Frosted Fire'
Sedum 'Frosted Fire'

#25 Stonecrop (Sedum)

Both tall and short sedums are beloved by butterflies and are great plants for the xeric butterfly garden. To learn more about Sedum, Check out our Sedum article in our articles archive.

(Nectar) (Host): Fiery Skipper, Hairstreaks, Red Admiral, Variegated Fritillary


Image of Monarda 'Bubblegum Blast' PPAF
Monarda 'Bubblegum Blast' PPAF

#24 Beebalm (Monarda)

A hit with Swallowtails and Silver-Spotted Skipper. There are a lot of new Monarda hybrids on the market now that are disease resistant, do not overrun the garden and do not flop over.

(Nectar)


Image of Panicum virgatum 'Dallas Blues' PP 11,202
Panicum virgatum 'Dallas Blues' PP 11,202

#23 Grasses

Ornamental grasses are widely used as host plants for butterflies. Just remember not to spray them with insecticides when you see signs of feeding. Try Muhlenbergia, Schizachyrium, Panicum or Carex.

(Host) Black Dash, Broad-Winged Skipper, Dion Skipper, Dun Skipper, Northern Broken Dash, Tawny-edged Skipper, Wood Nymph


Image of Baptisia minor 'Melissa Blue'
Baptisia minor 'Melissa Blue'

#22 Baptisia

A beautiful native flowering plant, but butterflies don't want the flowers…Baptisias are host plants for butterflies. In particular, Baptisia is a host plant for the Wild Indigo Duskywing butterfly. Silver-Spotted Skippers and Hoary Edge Butterflies are fans too. Plant Delights has a baptisia breeding program and is one of the leaders in the US in new baptisia releases.

Check out our detailed Baptisia article for more information.


(Host)


#21 Stokesia

Stokesia is popular with gardeners for its large blue flowers and also with Great Spangled Fritillaries for its sweet nectar.

Check out our detailed Stokesia article in our article archives.


(Nectar)

Image of Aristolochia fimbriata
Aristolochia fimbriata

#20 Pipe Vine (Aristolochia)

A popular vine with gardeners for its large (sometimes variegated) leaves and bizarre meerschaum pipe-like flowers, Pipe Vine is also popular with the bizarre and colorful Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar as a host plant.


(Host)


Image of Angelica dahurica
Angelica dahurica

#19 Angelica

Angelica is in the carrot family, and if you have ever seen butterflies go all a-flutter for its relatives - carrot, queen anne's lace, dill, or fennel, then you will understand why they also like this lacy-flowered beauty.


(Host)(Nectar) : Blues, Coppers, Hairstreaks


Image of Achillea 'Strawberry Seduction' PP 18,401
Achillea 'Strawberry Seduction' PP 18,401

#18 Yarrow

Large, colorful flower clusters make Achillea a great plant for butterfly gardens. The frilly foliage is very fern-like and adds a nice texture to the border.


(Nectar) : American Copper, Banded Hairstreak, Lorquin Admiral, Red-banded Hairstreak, West Coast Lady

 


Image of Phlox subulata 'Candy Stripe'
Phlox subulata 'Candy Stripe'

#17 Phlox

There are a wide variety of phlox colors to choose from for your butterfly garden...just make sure you pick ones that are also mildew resistant.


(Nectar) : Sachem, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Silvery Checkerspot , Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail, Zabulon

 


Image of Helianthus angustifolius 'First Light' PP 13,150
Helianthus angustifolius 'First Light' PP 13,150

#16 Sunflower (Helianthus)

You may be more familiar with annual sunflowers, but there are also perennial sunflowers that blaze with color for a long period in the fall. Oh, and butterflies think they taste pretty good too.


(Host)(Nectar) : American Lady, Bordered Patch, Cabbage White, Giant Swallowtail, Gorgone Checkerspot, Painted Lady, Gray Hairstreak, Monarch, Pearl Crescent, Sachem, Silvery Checkerspot, Spicebush Swallowtail, Wild Indigo Duskywing

 


Image of Eupatorium greggii
Eupatorium greggii

#15 Joe-Pye Weed

Eupatoriums are plants with clusters of frilly flowers that attract butterflies, particularly large butterflies like swallowtails…great choices for moist soils.


(Nectar)

 


Image of Liatris sp. 'Georgia Giant'
Liatris sp. 'Georgia Giant'

#14 Liatris (Blazing Star)

Liatris shoots up firework-like flower stalks around the 4th of July. Enjoy your Independence Day barbeque along with the swallowtails which will be sipping Liatris nectar while you sip on lemonade.


(Nectar)

 


Image of Agastache 'Blue Fortune'
Agastache 'Blue Fortune'

#13 Mint family

Not a specific plant, but butterflies like so many members of this plant family (Agastache, Lavender, Rosemary, Calamintha, Pycnanthemum etc.) I had to group them together as top plants for butterfly gardens. These plants also feature fragrant foliage and some of them, like Agastache, have insanely colorful flowers too.


(Nectar): Cabbage White, Hairstreaks, Monarch, Peck’s Skipper, Sachem, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Spring and Summer Azure

 


Image of Antirrhinum hispanicum
Antirrhinum hispanicum

#12 Snapdragon

You may immediately think of annual snapdragons, but you should also try the great perennial snapdragons…pretty flowers, silvery foliage, and butterflies too!


(Nectar)(Host) : Cabbage White, Common Buckeye, Grey Hairstreak, Pearl Crescent, Swallowtail

 


Image of Vernonia altissima 'Jonesboro Giant'
Vernonia altissima 'Jonesboro Giant'

#11 Ironweed (Vernonia)

A tall, purple-flowered, fall blooming perennial for back of the border. Very popular with butterflies.


(Nectar) : Great Spangled Fritillary, Orange Sulphur, Monarch, Peck’s Skipper, Sachem, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail

 


Image of Leucanthemum x superbum 'Daisy Duke' PP 21,914
Leucanthemum x superbum 'Daisy Duke' PP 21,914

#10 Daisy (Leucanthemum)

This classic white-flowered summer garden plant has flowers that attract butterflies as well as serving as a host plant. 

(Nectar) (Host) : American Painted Lady, Cabbage White, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak, Painted Lady, Queen, Red Admiral, Pearl Crescent, Sachem

#9 Goldenrod (Solidago)

Late summer into fall, goldenrod provides much needed nectar for butterflies.


(Nectar) : American Painted Lady, American Snout, Clouded Sulphur, Common Sulphur, Great Swallowtail, Gorgone Checkerspot, Monarch, Painted Lady, Pearl Crescent, Red Admiral, Red-Banded Hairstreak, Sachem, Viceroy

 


Image of Rudbeckia fulgida var. umbrosa
Rudbeckia fulgida var. umbrosa

#8 Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)

Another long-blooming summer perennial, the black-eyed susan has invisible (to humans) patterns on the petals that only butterflies (with ultraviolet vision) can see.


(Nectar) : American Snout, Great Spangled Fritillary, Hayhurst’s Scallopwing, Orange Sulphur, Pearl Crescent, Sachem, Silvery Checkerspot, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Spring and Summer Azure, Variegated Fritillary
 

#7 Verbena

In particular, the Brazilian verbena (Verbena bonariensis) is quite popular with a large variety of butterfly species. Other verbenas work well too.


(Nectar) : American Lady, Black Swallowtail, Cabbage White, Common Buckeye, Clouded Skipper, Clouded Sulphur, Crossline Skipper, Dun Skipper, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Fiery Skipper, Gray Hairstreak, Great Southern White, Great Spangled Fritillary, Hayhurst’s Scallopwing, Horace’s Duskywing, Least Skipper, Little Glassywing, Monarch, Ocola Skipper, Orange Sulphur, Painted Lady, Pecks Skipper, Pearl Crescent, Pipevine Swallowtail, Red-Banded Hairstreak, Red Spotted Admiral, Sachem, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Silvery Checkerspot, Swallowtail, Tawny-edged Skipper, Variegated Fritillary, Wild Indigo Duskywing, Zabulon, Zebra Longwing, Zebra Swallowtail

 


Image of Lantana camara 'Star Landing'
Lantana camara 'Star Landing'

#6 Lantana

Perennial lantanas flower all summer long with bright colors, and bring butterflies in droves (and hummingbirds too).


(Nectar) : Cabbage White, Fiery Skipper, Great Swallowtail, Gray Hairstreak, Hayhurst’s Scallopwing, Little Glassywing, Monarch, Red Admiral, Sachem, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Skipper, Spicebush Swallowtail, Swallowtail, Wild Indigo Duskywing, Zebra Longwing

 



Image of Salvia 'Madeline' PP 20,456
Salvia 'Madeline' PP 20,456

#5 Salvia

If you are not already growing salvias, you should start. Salvias offer a wide range of colors, drought tolerance, an extremely long period of bloom, are attractive to hummingbirds and oh yeah, a couple of butterflies too. To learn more about Salvia, check out our detailed article in our articles archive.


(Nectar) : American Lady, Cabbage White, Clouded Skipper, Cloudless Sulphur, Dun Skipper, Fiery Skipper, Giant Swallowtail, Gray Hairstreak, Gulf Fritillary, Monarch, Orange Sulphur, Orange-barred Sulphur, Peck’s Skipper, Sachem, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Spicebush Swallowtail, Zebra Longwing, Zabulon

 


Image of Aster ageratoides 'Ezo Murasaki'
Aster ageratoides 'Ezo Murasaki'

#4 Aster

Asters are late summer and fall blooming perennials are astounding butterfly attractors, not only for nectar but also as a host plant.


(Nectar)(Host) : American Lady, American Snout, Anise Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail, Buckeye Butterfly, Cabbage White, Clouded Skipper, Clouded Sulphur, Common Buckeye, Common Checkered-Skipper, Common Sulphur, Eastern Tailed-Blue, Fiery Skipper, Gray Hairstreak, Horace’s Duskywing, Lorquin Admiral, Monarch, Orange Sulphur, Painted Lady, Pearl Crescent, Peck’s Skipper, Question Mark, Red Admiral, Red-Banded Hairstreak, Sachem, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Sleepy Orange, Swallowtail, Variegated Fritillary, Viceroy, West Coast Lady

 


Image of Echinacea purpurea 'Fatal Attraction' PP 18,429
Echinacea purpurea 'Fatal Attraction' PP 18,429

#3 Coneflower (Echinacea)

This widely adaptable perennial can be planted almost everywhere in the US and attracts tons and tons of butterflies. To learn more about Echinacea check out our detailed article in our articles archive.


(Nectar) : American Lady, Banded Hairstreak, Black Swallowtail, Clouded Sulphur, Common Checkered Skipper, Common Wood-nymph, Eastern Tailed Blue, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Fiery Skipper, Giant Swallowtail, Gray Hairstreak, Great Spangled Fritillary, Gulf Fritillary, Hayhurst’s Scallopwing, Horace’s Duskywing, Little Glassywing, Monarch, Orange Sulphur, Painted Lady, Pearl Crescent, Peck’s Skipper, Red Admiral, Red-Banded Hairstreak, Red-Spotted Admiral, Sachem, Silvery Checkerspot, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Spicebush Swallowtail, Swallowtail, Tawny-edge Skipper, Variegated Fritillary, Viceroy, Wild Indigo Duskywing, Zabulon

 


Image of Asclepias tuberosa
Asclepias tuberosa

#2 Butterfly Flower / Butterfly Weed (Asclepias)

With 'butterfly' in the common name, you better bet this is an incredible plant for butterfly gardens. Not only do the colorful flowers provide nectar, but the leaves and stems are host plants for butterflies that are popular with the caterpillars because they are filled with a toxic white latex that makes the ‘pillars taste bad to predators. No butterfly garden should be without butterfly weed, especially if you want to help protect the endangered Monarch butterfly. If native plants are your thing, then butterfly weed should be your #1 butterfly plant.


(Host)(Nectar) : American Copper, American Lady, Baltimore Checkerspot, Banded Hairstreak, Black Swallowtail, Bronze Copper, Cabbage White, Common Buckeye, Delaware Skipper, Eastern Tailed-Blue, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Fiery Skipper, Giant Swallowtail, Gray Hairstreak , Great Spangled Fritillary, Hoary Edge, Little Glassywing, Lorquin Admiral, Monarch, Mourning Cloak, Orange Sulphur, Painted Lady, Pearl Crescent, Peck's Skipper, Pipevine Swallowtail, Queen, Question Mark, Red Admiral, Red-banded Hairstreak, Red-spotted Purple, Sachem, Silver-spotted Skipper, Silvery Checkerspot, Sleepy Orange, Southern Cloudywing, Spicebush Swallowtail, Spring Azure, Two-tailed Swallowtail , Variegated Fritillary, Viceroy, Zabulon, Zebra Longwing, Zebra Swallowtail

 


Image of Buddleia davidii 'Bonnie'
Buddleia davidii 'Bonnie'

#1 Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)

The A#1, top-ranked, can't be beat, plant for a butterfly garden is the butterfly bush which attracts a wide range of butterfly species. Each plant can support hundreds of butterflies feeding on it at one time. Bright colors and a long bloom time (if deadheaded) make Buddleia the #1 plant for a butterfly garden. Every butterfly fan should grow Buddleia. To learn more about Buddleia check out our detailed article in our articles archive.


(Nectar) : American Lady, Anise Swallowtail, Banded Hairstreak, Black Swallowtail, Cabbage White, Cloudless Sulphur, Crossline Skipper, Eastern Comma, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Fiery Skipper, Giant Swallowtail, Great Spangled Fritillary, Gulf Fritillary, Horace’s Duskywing, Little Glassywing, Monarch, Mourning Cloak, Ocola Skipper, Orange Sulphur, Painted Lady, Pipevine Swallowtail, Polydamus Swallowtail, Queen, Question Mark, Red Admiral, Red-Banded Hairstreak, Red-Spotted Purple, Peck’s Skipper, Sachem, Silver Spotted Skipper, Southern Broken-Dash, Spicebush Swallowtail, Spring and Summer Azure, Variegated Fritillary, Viceroy, Wild Indigo Duskywing, Zabulon, Zebra Longwing, Zebra Swallowtail

 

Honorable Mentions

Of course there are plenty other great butterfly attracting plants that did not make our top 25 buttefly garden plants. Some of our other favorites include Agapanthus, Allium, Amsonia, Chrysanthemum, Coreopsis, Dianthus, Erigeron, Hemerocallis, Lobelia, Mallow, and Penstemon.

 

Conclusion

The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly.
~Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun

The kinetic fluttering of butterflies as they float from flower to flower in a butterfly garden is a joy to watch. There are hundreds of other great butterfly garden plants that you can see on our butterfly flowers page. For those of you near us in Raleigh, NC (or traveling near Raleigh), you are welcome to visit our gardens during our open house events to see our butterfly gardens and butterfly host plants in action. We can also recommend two other local butterfly gardens, the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, and the Butterfly House at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham.

 

References:

Plant Delights Nursery Blog - entries about flowers that attract butterflies