Top 5 Plants for Butterflies

by Darcy Larum July 29, 2017

Top 5 Plants for Butterflies

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Perhaps the butterfly is proof that you can go through a great deal of darkness, yet become something beautiful.” (Author unknown) Maybe this is why we love butterflies – because the changes they go through fascinate us and give us hope. Perhaps, it’s because they remind us of beautiful and free flower fairies who can just up and fly away when they’re tired of one spot. Whatever the reason, most gardeners and nature lovers love butterflies and welcome them into their garden. They evoke a sense of peacefulness and happiness when we watch a butterfly flit from flower to flower, and have inspired poets and artists for centuries.

Below are the top 5 plants for attracting butterflies.

1. Milkweed (Asclepias sp.) – Milkweed, a perennial native to North America, is a must if you want to attract butterflies to your garden. Oftentimes, considered a weed, milkweed has lost much of its native habitat to agricultural, commercial and residential development. There are hundreds of different varieties in different regions and hardiness zones, however, and most are excellent host plants for monarch butterflies. Adult monarchs drink the nectar and lay eggs on the undersides of milkweed leaves. After the eggs hatch, the monarch caterpillars spend all 5 of their larvae stages munching on the plant. Besides monarchs, milkweed is an important source of nectar for many other butterflies like:

  • Eastern swallowtails
  • Zebra swallowtails
  • Viceroys
  • Great spangled fritillaries
  • American coppers
  • Tailed blues
  • Spring azures
  • Clouded sulfurs
  • Mourning cloaks
  • Baltimore checkerspots
  • Queens
  • Question marks
  • Zabulon skippers

2. Lantana (Lantana sp.) – Lantana is hardy in zones 9-11 where it is sometimes considered an invasive weed. It is drought tolerant, rabbit and deer resistant and prefers slightly acidic soil. In cooler climates, lantana is grown as an annual, does not become invasive, and is great for containers and attracting butterflies. Some butterflies that feed on the nectar of lantana are:

  • Anise swallowtails
  • Giant swallowtails
  • Zebra swallowtails
  • Spice bush swallowtails
  • Monarchs
  • Viceroys
  • Great spangled fritillaries
  • Buckeyes
  • Zebra longwings
  • Gulf fritillaries

3. Butterfly Bush (Buddleia sp.) – Butterfly bush is a shrub that is hardy in zones 5-10, though in zones 5 and 6 it may die back to the ground in late autumn like a perennial. Butterfly bush blooms on new wood, so even in warmer climates it should be cut back in autumn. As the name suggests, butterfly bush attracts many different types of butterflies, as well as hummingbirds. Some butterflies that feed on the nectar of butterfly bush include:

  • Anise swallowtails
  • Black swallowtails
  • Tiger swallowtails
  • Zebra swallowtails
  • Spicebush swallowtails
  • Pipevine swallowtails
  • Polydamus swallowtails
  • Monarchs
  • Red spotted purples
  • Cloudless sulfurs
  • Commas

4. Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) – Mexican sunflower is a perennial in zones 10-11. Elsewhere it is grown as an annual, whose bright orange flowers attract bees, hummingbirds and many kind of butterflies. Deadhead spent flowers to keep it blooming and attracting pollinators right up until frost. Some butterflies that feed on Mexican sunflower nectar are:

  • Anise swallowtail
  • Black swallowtails
  • Tiger swallowtails
  • Pipevine swallowtails
  • Zebra swallowtails
  • Spicebush swallowtails
  • Monarchs
  • Great spangled fritillaries
  • Gulf fritillaries
  • Cloudless sulfurs
  • Queens
  • Painted ladies
  • Skippers

5. Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) – Joe pye weed is a native perennial in zones 3-8. It can grow up to 6 feet tall, but there are dwarf varieties like Little Joe. Joe pye weed is a late season bloomer, blooming usually from July-September. Some butterflies that feed on the nectar of Joe pye weed are:

  • Zebra swallowtails
  • Anise swallowtails
  • Spicebush swallowtails
  • Tiger swallowtails
  • Black swallowtails
  • Giant swallowtails
  • Greater fritillaries
  • Gulf fritillaries
  • Variegated fritillaries

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