Do you want a beautiful garden that attracts butterflies? You will typically find these winged beauties fluttering around a garden. If you want to invite them to your yard, certain plants for butterflies can provide food, shelter, or a sunny spot.
Butterfly larvae feed on leafy sources like foliage, trees, and herbs. On the other hand, adult butterflies feed on liquid food sources like tree sap, nectar, and fruit. Knowing what plants and flowers are excellent food sources allows you to create a vibrant and healthy garden that attracts butterflies.
When creating a butterfly or pollinator garden, you want to opt for native plants or native flowering plants to attract butterflies and caterpillars within your area. You also want to consider the stages of a butterfly's life and its various needs.
Read on as we look at a few plants and flowers that can attract butterflies to your yard.
18 Unique Plants That Attract Butterflies To Your Yard
1. Butterfly Bush
Botanical name: Buddleia davidii
As the name implies, the butterfly bush is a fast-growing shrub with beautiful flowers that attract butterflies. Also known as summer lilac, their flowers bloom in summer and continue even until fall.
You will find yellow, red, violet, lavender, purple, or white flowers on the butterfly bush plant. This plant thrives under the full sun with fertile, well-drained soil.
The butterfly bush is excellent for planting in cottage gardens, island beds, or perennial borders because of their somewhat messy growth. If you're going for a more arranged and groomed look for your garden, you can go for the dwarf types of butterfly bush.
2. Joe Pye Weed
Botanical name: Eutrochium purpureum
Joe Pye Weed is another great plant to add to your butterfly garden. It is a moisture-loving plant native to the Eastern United States. You will find them growing around woodlands, meadows, streams, and even roadside ditches.
These plants have beautiful blooms from summer until fall and come in purple or pink flowers. They grow well under the full sun to partial shade and in rich and well-drained soil. They can also thrive in moist soil and are drought tolerant, but only briefly.
Joe Pye weeds are a low-maintenance plant that attracts pollinators, including butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, thanks to its sweet vanilla scent.
The Joe Pye Weed also has a history of medicinal uses. Folklore tells us that an Indian man named “Joe Pye” used this plant to treat fevers. Also, American Colonists used the plant to treat the typhus outbreak2.
3. Butterfly Weed
Botanical name: Asclepias tuberosa
The butterfly weed is another plant that is on our list of plants attracting butterflies. It is a milkweed native to North American fields and is the sole host plant for the monarch butterfly.
Milkweeds are butterfly-attracting plants as they are both a food source and host plant for monarch butterfly eggs. It also attracts other pollinators like bees and hummingbirds.
Monarch butterfly larvae eat milkweed, precisely the juicy leaves of the butterfly weed and other types of milkweed. It has summer blooms with bright colors of pink, white, yellow, purple, or orange flowers. These plants grow well under the full sun with well-drained soil.
4. Black-Eyed Susan
Botanical name: Rudbeckia
Black-eyed Susans are beautiful plants with daisy-like flowers to add to your butterfly garden. You can find these low-maintenance flowers in woodlands, meadows, and roadsides.
Their flowers bloom in late spring and come in mahogany, gold, bronze, orange, or yellow flowers with a dark center attracting butterflies to your garden.
You want to grow this plant under the full sun and well-drained soil. They can also survive under a partial shade with proper air circulation to prevent powdery mildew. Black-eyed susans are great for low-maintenance urban gardens with their beauty and versatility.
Botanical name: Echinacea
Native to the North American open woodlands and fields, the coneflower attracts butterfly species, including monarch butterflies, swallowtails, skippers, etc.
Coneflowers are tough and can resist drought, heat, and winter cold. They are suitable for a wildlife flower garden and can attract butterflies and other beneficial insects. The plants prefer full sun but can also thrive under partial shade and loose, well-draining soil.
Their growing season starts mid to late spring when their green leaves begin to unfurl. Their flowers start to open around the mid to late summer and come in rose-purple, yellow, and pink flowers. These plants for butterflies are excellent for meadows, borders, and wildflower butterfly gardens.
6. Swamp Milkweed
Botanical name: Asclepias incarnata
Swamp Milkweed or rose milkweed is a perennial plant native to North America. They grow close to ponds, lakes, streams, and low areas. Like the butterfly weed, swamp milkweeds are host plants for the monarch butterfly1, which feeds on its tiny flowers and lays eggs on the plant.
The larva also feeds on the leaves of the swamp milkweed. The plant blooms in early summer through mid-summer, producing small flowers that come in pink and sometimes white. It can vary from darker shades of purple to pinkish purple and white. Its blooms attract many species of butterflies as well as other pollinators.
Botanical name: Salvia officinalis
Salvia or Sage is a member of the mint family, which also includes lavender and basil. You can find them in hot and dry climates, and they are a favorite for both butterflies and bees thanks to their nectar-rich blooms and fragrant foliage. They are deer and pest-resistant and can thrive under low water conditions.
Salvia thrives under full sun and well-draining soil. They are perfect for perennial borders and can also do well as fillers in flower containers. Their flowers bloom in late spring until fall, coming in shades ranging from dark purple to lavender, red, pink, white, and blue.
Botanical name: Phlox paniculata
Phlox is one of the best plants for a butterfly garden, thanks to the fragrant blooms that butterflies love. These plants can be an excellent backdrop for mixed beds and borders. Their flowers are also suitable for cutting in vases.
They love the sunny spot and grow best in well-draining soil. Most phlox species have deep green foliage, while some have variegated foliage with yellow or creamy white margins.
Some grow upright, while some species, like the moss phlox, grow short. Some bloom in spring, while others bloom all summer and into autumn. You will find their fragrant flowers in beautiful blue, bright red, violet, pink, or white colors.
Botanical name: L. Angustifolia
These aromatic plants are great food sources for butterflies, making them a great addition to your butterfly garden—various types of lavender, include English, French, and Spanish.
They make a stunning view of the border or perennial gardens blooming from early summer into fall. You can find flower colors ranging from lavender to deep blue, purple, pink, dark violet, and white.
Lavender thrives well under the full sun with well-drained soil. You can use lavender in your garden paths and walkways to attract both butterflies and bees while repelling insects like flies and mosquitoes.
Botanical name: Tagetes
Native to Mexico, Marigolds are colorful flowers that attract butterfly species, including the Marigold butterfly, while driving away pests from your garden.
Most species come with green leaves and beautiful orange, golden, yellow, and white flowers. They can grow in full sun and most soil types but do best in well-draining, moist soil. Marigolds are also relatively easy to grow and have a good drought tolerance.
Botanical name: Helianthus annuus
Sunflower is another flowering plant that can lure butterflies to your garden. These easy-to-grow plants have large flowers that come in a disc-like shape. They are also a host plant for the streamside checkerspot butterfly.
Sunflowers thrive in full sun and can grow in different soil types, including clay, silt, and loam. Butterfly gardeners mostly grow them as annuals and sometimes perennials. Annuals bloom during summer through to autumn, while perennial sunflowers bloom as early as July through to October.
Sunflowers look great along a wall or at the back of a border garden. You can also add them to a cutting garden or plant them in vegetable gardens. While you're used to seeing yellow sunflowers, you can also find sunflowers in white, red, brown, orange, and mahogany colors.
Related read: Sunflower Quotes.
Botanical name: Cephalanthus occidentalis
Buttonbush is a deciduous shrub native to Chicago and the Eastern United States. You can find them in wetlands like swamps, mangroves, floodplains, and more. It has glossy-looking leaves and flower clusters which bloom around the summer into fall.
These flower clusters usually come in a pink or white color. They are a magnet to various butterflies thanks to their fragrant blooms. Apart from attracting butterflies, these plants are also host plants for different types of moths. These plants for butterflies can grow in wet soil or well-drained moist soil and full sun.
13. Bee Balm
Botanical name: Monarda fistulosa
One beautiful plant that can attract butterflies to your yard is the Bee Balm. Also known as wild bergamot, mint leaf bee balm, or horsemint, this plant has flower nectar that sustains pollinating insects, including butterflies, bees, moths, and so on.
You can use the bee balm plant in a variety of gardens, like cutting gardens, mixed borders, containers, and pathways. You can plant bee balms in early spring and have them bloom in late spring to fall. The flowers come in shades of pink, red, lavender, white or purple. You want to deadhead the spent blooms to keep your garden flowers looking beautiful.
Unsurprisingly, Bee Balm is also featured in our article on plants that attract bees.
14. Floss Flower
Botanical name: Ageratum houstonianum
Another plant that butterflies love is the Floss Flower. This member of the Aster family is native to tropical and subtropical regions of both North and South America.
Its blue colors are quite rare, making it a coveted plant for gardeners. However, you can also find them in pink, lavender, white, and red colors. Floss flowers are suitable for containers, borders, and pathways.
They grow in the full sun and prefer well-draining soils. Their beautiful flowers bloom in late spring and attract butterflies, insect pollinators, and hummingbirds.
15. Blazing Star
Botanical name: Liatris spicata
Blazing Star is one plant that can attract as many butterflies and insect pollinators to your garden. This includes species like monarch butterflies, swallowtail butterflies, and more. Also known as gayfeather (because of the plant’s feathery flower plumes), these plants come in various species, most of which are native to Central North America.
The plant prefers the full sun and any soil type with good drainage. They are rarely disturbed by pests and diseases. However, you want to keep them well air-circulated to avoid mildew.
Blazing Stars are perfect for smaller gardens, cottage gardens, containers, and the back of beds and borders.
Botanical name: Alcea rosea
Hollyhocks have beautiful cup-shaped flowers that attract butterflies and other types of pollinators like bees and hummingbirds. Blooming in summer, these plants for butterflies come in various colors, including blue, white, yellow, red, pink, and black. They grow well under a sunny spot and soil with good drainage. They can grow up to 5 to 8 feet tall, adding some height and drama to your garden while attracting different types of butterflies.
Botanical name: Lantana Camara
If you want a wide range of butterflies fluttering around, this plant is one of the best plants for your butterfly garden. What's more, lantana has beautiful flower clusters that come in single or multi-hues that bloom non-stop nearly all year round during warmer climates. These colors change as they grow and age. Some of these colors include purple, coral, white, yellow, orange, red, and peach. It also thrives well under the full sun and well-drained soil.
Lantana is a member of the Verbena family and is native to regions of America and South Africa. These plants are perfect for beds and borders or along a pathway. They are also good for containers, hanging baskets, window boxes, slopes, and hillsides.
Botanical name: Zinnia elegans
For a burst of colors in your butterfly garden, zinnias are the way to go. They grow quickly and attract butterflies and hummingbirds. They also come in various sizes and shapes, with stars, buttons, spiders, dahlias, and so on. Within the shapes are also singles, doubles, and semi-doubles, giving them the most beautiful and unique look. They grow very well under full sunlight and soil with good drainage.
Zinnia flowers bloom around late spring in colors of pink, purple, orange, red, and yellow, in bi-color and tri-color ranges. You can include Zinnias to a mixed border to add some color and height to your garden. You can also use the smaller varieties in containers and window boxes.
Looking for cut flowers? Zinnias are also perfect for cut flower arrangements because of their long, hard stems.
Wrapping Up: Plants For A Butterfly Garden
Once you create your butterfly garden, you will attract different types of butterflies and nectar-feeding animals like hummingbirds and bees. You want to be patient as you grow your garden and enjoy all the wonderful benefits.
There are many other plants that you can use for your butterfly garden. You can go through our list above to find some plants for butterflies you can start with.
Pocius, V. M., Debinski, D. M., Pleasants, J. M., Bidne, K. G., and Hellmich, R. L.. (2018) Monarch butterflies do not place all of their eggs in one basket: oviposition on nine Midwestern milkweed species.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin. (n.d.). Eutrochium maculatum var. maculatum