The Top 25 Butterfly Plants

The Top 25 Butterfly Plants

...flowers to attract butterflies

By Published July 27, 2016 Updated January 25, 2023

Shop for Butterfly Attracting Plants at Plant Delights Nursery

When it comes to the perfect butterfly plants and flowers for hosting butterflies, gardeners have a plethora of choices 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

The Top 25 Butterfly Plants

Sedum (Stonecrop)

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 in-depth Sedum article in our archive.

Nectar or Host: Nectar and Host

Butterfly Species Attracted: Hylephila phyleus (Fiery Skipper), Callophrys (Green Hairstreaks), Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral), Euptoieta claudia (Variegated Fritillary), Incisalia (Elfins)

 

 

 


Monarda (Bee Balm)

Monarda produce tubular flowers in shades of white, pink, red, and purple. 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. A wide variety of butterflies find bee balm an attractive source of nectar. Some moths in the genus Coleophora also use Monarda as a host plant.

Nectar or Host: Nectar and host

Butterfly Species Attracted: Papilio (Swallowtails), Epargyreus clarus (Silver-spotted Skipper), Coleophora monardella, Coleophora monardae

 

 


Ornamental 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.

Nectar or Host: Host

Butterfly Species Attracted: Euphyes conspicua (Black Dash), Poanes viator (Broad-winged Skipper), Euphyes dion (Dion Skipper), Euphyes vestris (Dun Skipper), Wallengrenia egeremet (Northern Broken Dash), Polites themistocles (Tawny-edged Skipper), Cercyonis (Wood Nymph)

 

 


Baptisia (False Indigo)

A beautiful native flowering plant, but butterflies don't want the flowers…Baptisias are host plants for butterflies. 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 to learn more.

Nectar or Host: Host

Butterfly Species Attracted: Erynnis baptisiae (Wild Indigo Duskywing), Epargyreus clarus (Silver-spotted Skipper), Cecropterus lyviades (Hoary Edge), Callophrys irus (Frosted elfin)

 

 


Stokesia (Stokes' Aster)

Stokesia is a popular butterfly plant in the daisy family with large blue flowers that attract the great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele) with its sweet nectar. Check out our detailed Stokesia article in our article archives.

Nectar or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Speyeria cybele (Great Spangled Fritillary)

 

 

 

 


Aristolochia (Dutchman's Pipe, Pipe Vine)

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

Nectar or Host: Host

Butterfly Species Attracted: Battus philenor (Pipevine swallowtail), Archon apollinus (False Apollo), Bhutanitis, Atrophaneura dasarada (Great windmill), Parides (Cattlehearts)

 

 

 


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. Some species are host to a variety of moths.

Nectar or Host: Host and Nectar

Butterfly Families Attracted: Polyommatinae (Blues), Lycaeninae (Coppers), Theclinae (Hairstreaks), Papilionidae (Swallowtails)


Achillea (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. Achillea are also superb as cut or dried flowers.

Nectar or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Lycaena phlaeas (American Copper), Satyrium calanus (Banded Hairstreak), Limenitis lorquini (Lorquin's Admiral), Calycopis cecrops (Red-banded Hairstreak), Vanessa annabella (West Coast Lady)

 

 

 

 


Phlox

There are a wide variety of phlox colors to choose from for your butterfly garden. If you live in the southern US, make sure you pick ones that are also mildew resistant.

Nectar or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Epargyreus clarus (Silver-Spotted Skipper), Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot), Papilio troilus (Spicebush Swallowtail), Papilio appalachiensis (Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail), Lon zabulon (Zabulon Skipper)


Helianthus (Sunflower, Swamp Sunflower)

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

Nectar or Host: Host and Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Vanessa virginiensis (American Lady), Chlosyne lacinia (Bordered Patch), Pieris rapae (Cabbage White), Papilio cresphontes (Giant Swallowtail), Chlosyne gorgone (Gorgone Checkerspot), Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady), Strymon melinus (Gray Hairstreak), Danaus plexippus (Monarch), Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent), Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot), Papilio troilus (Spicebush Swallowtail), Erynnis baptisiae (Wild Indigo Duskywing)


Eupatorium (Joe-Pye Weed)

Eupatoriums plants are fabulous late-season sources of nectar for pollinators. The clusters of frilly flowers attract butterflies, particularly large ones like swallowtails…great choices for moist soils. They are also deer-resistant.

Nectar or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Danaus plexippus (Monarch), Euptoieta claudia (Variegated Fritillary), Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail), Limenitis arthemis (Red-spotted Purple), Vanessa atalanta (Red Admirable)

 

 


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 or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Danaus plexippus (Monarch), Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail), Pieris rapae (Cabbage White), Strymon melinus (Gray Hairstreak), Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Pompeius verna (Little Glassywing)


Mint

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 or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Pieris rapae (Cabbage White), Strymon melinus (Gray Hairstreak), Danaus plexippus (Monarch), Polites peckius (Peck’s Skipper), Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Epargyreus clarus (Silver-spotted Skipper), Celastrina ladon (Spring Azure), Celastrina neglecta (Summer Azure)


Antirrhinum (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 or Host: Nectar and Host

Butterfly Species Attracted: Pieris rapae (Cabbage White), Junonia coenia (Common Buckeye), Strymon melinus (Gray Hairstreak), Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent), Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail)

 

 

 


Vernonia (Ironweed)

A tall, purple-flowered, fall blooming perennial for the back of the border. An easy-to-grow summer perennial and very popular with butterflies and hummingbirds.

Nectar or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Speyeria cybele (Great Spangled Fritillary), Colias eurytheme (Orange Sulphur), Danaus plexippus (Monarch), Polites peckius (Peck’s Skipper), Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Epargyreus clarus (Silver-spotted Skipper), Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail)

 


Leucanthemum (Daisy)

This classic white-flowered summer garden plant has flowers that attract butterflies and moths as well as serving as a host plant. Daisies also make great night garden plants.

Nectar or Host: Nectar and Host

Butterfly Species Attracted: Vanessa virginiensis (American Painted Lady), Pieris rapae (Cabbage White), Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail), Mourning Cloak, Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady), Queen, Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral), Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent), Atalopedes campestris (Sachem)

 

 

 


Solidago (Goldenrod)

Late summer into fall, goldenrod provides much needed nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. New varieties of goldenrod are fantastic drough-tolerant, non-aggressive wildflowers that look great in the garden.

Nectar or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Vanessa virginiensis (American Painted Lady), Libytheana carinenta (American Snout), Colias philodice (Clouded Sulphur), Papilio cresphontes (Giant Swallowtail), Chlosyne gorgone (Gorgone Checkerspot), Danaus plexippus (Monarch), Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady), Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent), Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral), Calycopis cecrops (Red-banded Hairstreak), Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Limenitis archippus (Viceroy)


Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan)

Black-eyed Susan is another long-blooming summer perennial that is a star performer in our hot, humid summers. The black-eyed susan has invisible (to humans) patterns on the petals that only butterflies (with ultraviolet vision) can see. An amazing, tough perennial wildflower.

Nectar or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Libytheana carinenta (American Snout), Speyeria cybele (Great Spangled Fritillary), Staphylus hayhurstii (Hayhurst’s Scallopwing), Colias eurytheme (Orange Sulphur), Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent), Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot), Epargyreus clarus (Silver-spotted Skipper), Spring and Summer Azure, Euptoieta claudia (Variegated Fritillary)


Verbena (Vervain)

Verbena are easy-to-grow summer perennials with blooms that last all summer and are a favorite food source for butterflies and hummingbirds.

Nectar or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Vanessa virginiensis (American Lady), Papilio polyxenes (Black Swallowtail), Pieris rapae (Cabbage White), Junonia coenia (Common Buckeye), Lerema accius (Clouded Skipper), Colias philodice (Clouded Sulphur), Polites origenes (Crossline Skipper), Euphyes vestris (Dun Skipper), Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail), Hylephila phyleus (Fiery Skipper), Strymon melinus (Gray Hairstreak), Ascia monuste (Great Southern White), Speyeria cybele (Great Spangled Fritillary), Staphylus hayhurstii (Hayhurst’s Scallopwing), Erynnis horatius (Horace’s Duskywing), Ancyloxypha numitor (Least Skipper), Pompeius verna (Little Glassywing), Danaus plexippus (Monarch), Panoquina ocola (Ocola Skipper), Colias eurytheme (Orange Sulphur), Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady), Polites peckius (Peck's Skipper), Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent), Battus philenor (Pipevine swallowtail), Calycopis cecrops (Red-banded Hairstreak), Limenitis arthemis (Red Spotted Admiral), Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Epargyreus clarus (Silver-spotted Skipper), Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot), Polites themistocles (Tawny-edge Skipper), Euptoieta claudia (Variegated Fritillary), Erynnis baptisiae (Wild Indigo Duskywing), Lon zabulon (Zabulon Skipper), Heliconius charithonia (Zebra Longwing), Eurytides marcellus (Zebra Swallowtail)


Lantana (Spanish Flag, Hardy Lantana)

Perennial lantanas flower all summer long with bright colors, and bring butterflies and hummingbirds in droves. Lantana plants love hot weather and full sun and are drought- and salt-tolerant once established.

Nectar or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Pieris rapae (Cabbage White), Hylephila phyleus (Fiery Skipper), Papilio cresphontes (Giant Swallowtail), Strymon melinus (Gray Hairstreak), Staphylus hayhurstii (Hayhurst’s Scallopwing), Pompeius verna (Little Glassywing), Danaus plexippus (Monarch), Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral), Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Epargyreus clarus (Silver-spotted Skipper), Papilio troilus (Spicebush Swallowtail), Erynnis baptisiae (Wild Indigo Duskywing), Heliconius charithonia (Zebra Longwing)


Salvia (Sage)

If you are not already growing salvias, you should start this season. Salvias are low maintenance and come in a wide variety of colors. For the longest blooms, try one of the varieties of blue salvias.

Nectar or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Vanessa virginiensis (American Lady), Pieris rapae (Cabbage White), Lerema accius (Clouded Skipper), Phoebis sennae (Cloudless Sulphur), Euphyes vestris (Dun Skipper), Hylephila phyleus (Fiery Skipper), Papilio cresphontes (Giant Swallowtail), Strymon melinus (Gray Hairstreak), Dione vanillae (Gulf Fritillary), Danaus plexippus (Monarch), Colias eurytheme (Orange Sulphur), Phoebis philea (Orange-barred Sulphur), Polites peckius (Peck's Skipper), Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Epargyreus clarus (Silver-spotted Skipper), Papilio troilus (Spicebush Swallowtail), Heliconius charithonia (Zebra Longwing), Lon zabulon (Zabulon Skipper)


Aster (Japanese Aster)

Asters are late summer and fall blooming perennials that are astounding butterfly attractors, not only for nectar but also as a host plant. Aster thrive in full sun and do well in typical garden soil.

Nectar or Host: Nectar and Host

Butterfly Species Attracted: Vanessa virginiensis (American Lady), Libytheana carinenta (American Snout), Anise Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes (Black Swallowtail), Buckeye Butterfly, Pieris rapae (Cabbage White), Lerema accius (Clouded Skipper), Colias philodice (Clouded Sulphur), Junonia coenia (Common Buckeye), Burnsius communis (Common Checkered Skipper), Cupido comyntas (Eastern Tailed-blue), Hylephila phyleus (Fiery Skipper), Strymon melinus (Gray Hairstreak), Erynnis horatius (Horace’s Duskywing), Limenitis lorquini (Lorquin's Admiral), Danaus plexippus (Monarch), Colias eurytheme (Orange Sulphur), Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady), Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent), Polites peckius (Peck's Skipper), Question Mark, Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral), Calycopis cecrops (Red-banded Hairstreak), Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Epargyreus clarus (Silver-spotted Skipper), Sleepy Orange, Swallowtail, Euptoieta claudia (Variegated Fritillary), Limenitis archippus (Viceroy), West Coast Lady


Echinacea (Coneflower)

This widely adaptable perennial can be planted almost everywhere in the US and attracts tons and tons of butterflies. Coneflower plants are easy to grow.

Nectar or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Vanessa virginiensis (American Lady), Banded Hairstreak, Papilio polyxenes (Black Swallowtail), Colias philodice (Clouded Sulphur), Burnsius communis (Common Checkered Skipper), Cercyonis pegala (Common Wood-nymph), Eastern Tailed Blue (Cupido comyntas), Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail), Hylephila phyleus (Fiery Skipper), Papilio cresphontes (Giant Swallowtail), Strymon melinus (Gray Hairstreak), Speyeria cybele (Great Spangled Fritillary), Dione vanillae (Gulf Fritillary), Staphylus hayhurstii (Hayhurst’s Scallopwing), Erynnis horatius (Horace’s Duskywing), Pompeius verna (Little Glassywing), Danaus plexippus (Monarch), Colias eurytheme (Orange Sulphur), Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady), Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent), Polites peckius (Peck's Skipper), Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral), Calycopis cecrops (Red-banded Hairstreak), Red-Spotted Admiral, Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot), Epargyreus clarus (Silver-spotted Skipper), Papilio troilus (Spicebush Swallowtail), Polites themistocles (Tawny-edge Skipper), Euptoieta claudia (Variegated Fritillary), Limenitis archippus (Viceroy), Erynnis baptisiae (Wild Indigo Duskywing), Lon zabulon (Zabulon Skipper)


Asclepias (Butterfly Flower, Butterfly Weed)

With 'butterfly' in the common name, you better bet this is an incredible plant for butterfly gardens. Not only do the colorful flowers of asclepias 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.

Nectar or Host: Host and Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: American Copper, Vanessa virginiensis (American Lady), Baltimore Checkerspot, Banded Hairstreak, Papilio polyxenes (Black Swallowtail), Bronze Copper, Pieris rapae (Cabbage White), Junonia coenia (Common Buckeye), Delaware Skipper, Cupido comyntas (Eastern Tailed-blue), Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail), Hylephila phyleus (Fiery Skipper), Papilio cresphontes (Giant Swallowtail), Strymon melinus (Gray Hairstreak), Speyeria cybele (Great Spangled Fritillary), Hoary Edge, Pompeius verna (Little Glassywing), Limenitis lorquini (Lorquin's Admiral), Danaus plexippus (Monarch), Mourning Cloak, Colias eurytheme (Orange Sulphur), Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady), Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent), Polites peckius (Peck's Skipper), Battus philenor (Pipevine swallowtail), Queen, Question Mark, Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral), Calycopis cecrops (Red-banded Hairstreak), Red-spotted Purple, Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Epargyreus clarus (Silver-spotted Skipper), Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot), Sleepy Orange, Southern Cloudywing, Papilio troilus (Spicebush Swallowtail), Spring Azure, Two-tailed Swallowtail, Euptoieta claudia (Variegated Fritillary), Limenitis archippus (Viceroy), Lon zabulon (Zabulon Skipper), Heliconius charithonia (Zebra Longwing), Eurytides marcellus (Zebra Swallowtail)


Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)

The #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 or Host: Nectar

Butterfly Species Attracted: Vanessa virginiensis (American Lady), Anise Swallowtail, Banded Hairstreak, Papilio polyxenes (Black Swallowtail), Pieris rapae (Cabbage White), Phoebis sennae (Cloudless Sulphur), Crossline Skipper, Eastern Comma, Papilio glaucus (Eastern Tiger Swallowtail), Hylephila phyleus (Fiery Skipper), Papilio cresphontes (Giant Swallowtail), Speyeria cybele (Great Spangled Fritillary), Dione vanillae (Gulf Fritillary), Erynnis horatius (Horace’s Duskywing), Pompeius verna (Little Glassywing), Danaus plexippus (Monarch), Mourning Cloak, Panoquina ocola (Ocola Skipper), Colias eurytheme (Orange Sulphur), Vanessa cardui (Painted Lady), Battus philenor (Pipevine swallowtail), Polydamus Swallowtail, Queen, Question Mark, Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral), Calycopis cecrops (Red-banded Hairstreak), Red-Spotted Purple, Polites peckius (Peck's Skipper), Atalopedes campestris (Sachem), Silver Spotted Skipper, Southern Broken-Dash, Papilio troilus (Spicebush Swallowtail), Spring and Summer Azure, Euptoieta claudia (Variegated Fritillary), Limenitis archippus (Viceroy), Erynnis baptisiae (Wild Indigo Duskywing), Lon zabulon (Zabulon Skipper), Heliconius charithonia (Zebra Longwing), Eurytides marcellus (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.

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 plants for sale 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.

Additional Butterfly Resources:

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