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Plants that Attract Butterflies

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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 of 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.

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.

  • 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 makes it easier for them to find that single planting.
  • 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 the nectar of flowers but prefer ripe fruit, sap flows, and carrion. Provide overripe melon rinds and fruit to the butterfly garden.

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

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), Baptisia 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), Chelone glabra* (white turtlehead. Butterflies attracted: Silver-Spotted Skipper, Spicebush Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail.
  • Coreopsis grandiflora* (tickseed), Coreopsis lanceolata* (lanceleaf coreopsis), Coreopsis rosea (pink coreopsis), Coreopsis 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), Rudbeckia 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), Symphyotrichum novae-angliae* (New England aster), Symphyotrichum 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* and 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.