Do you love butterflies? Well, it is time to show your love by helping them to survive. You and I may be attracted to exotic, high-priced plants, but butterflies require nothing so fancy; in fact, butterflies are attracted to many native plants that are considered weeds by many and eradicated with herbicides. If you want to attract butterflies to your garden, here are a few tips. First of all, do not use any pesticides or herbicides near your garden, as they are toxic for the butterflies and other pollinators. Second, plant a garden with a wide variety of plants that will provide flowers throughout the season. Third, plant nectar-rich flowers that are colorful and flat-topped or clustered with short flower tubes. Here are 13 such flowers that butterflies find irresistible:
Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa [Photo by Wayne National Forest (Flickr)]
Butterfly weed is a member of the milkweed family and thus is a host for monarch larvae, which only eat milkweed. It serves as a host to grey hairstreak and queen butterfly larvae as well, in addition to being a favorite nectar source for monarchs and many other types of butterflies. Butterfly weed is a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant perennial with bright orange flowers that are great for cutting. It starts blooming in late spring and continues blooming all summer, providing a long-lasting buffet for butterflies as well as hummingbirds.
Butterfly Bush, Buddleia davidii [Photo by Jim, the Photographer (Flickr)]
This summer- and fall-blooming shrub is a butterfly magnet as well as a sweet-scented beauty. Choose from shades of purple, white, and pink flowers, which attract bees and hummingbirds as well as butterflies. Butterfly bush is hardy in USDA zones 5-10 and may die back to the ground in the north, or you can take the initiative and cut it down to the ground in winter or spring if you prefer; it is a fast grower. Some varieties can reach ten feet tall, but there are now miniature cultivars available.
Bee balm, Monarda species [Photo by raymondgobis (Flickr)]
Scarlet bee balm is very popular as an ornamental plant, but purple-, pink-, and white-flowered varieties are also available. The leaves of this perennial are highly fragrant and edible to both humans and all types of butterflies. It is susceptible to powdery mildew, so consider a resistant variety.
Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca [Photo by Dave Bonta (Flickr)]
Common milkweed used to be seen all over fields, roadsides, and ditches but has been largely eradicated by herbicides. This is very unfortunate, as plants from the milkweed family are the only food source for monarch caterpillars, and they are a primary food source for other insects as well. Milkweed may be considered a weed, but I find its pink clustered flowers and seed pods to be beautiful.
Phlox, Phlox paniculata [Photo by Patrick Standish (Flickr)]
Tall phlox are an old-fashioned favorite, and it is no wonder; they are hardy, beautiful, sweet-scented, and have a long bloom time. Heights and colors vary greatly, but butterflies love them all! American painted lady, sulfur, cloudywing, and swallowtail butterflies all enjoy feasting on phlox.
Anise Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum [Photo by chipmunk_1 (Flickr)]
Anise hyssop, which is also considered an herb, is a food source for butterflies, birds, and people; the white checkered butterfly especially enjoys the tiny tubular purple flowers of anise hyssop. The fragrant leaves and flowers taste and smell of anise, but the plant is actually a member of the mint family. Anise hyssop is heat-resistant and drought-tolerant, and rabbits and deer don't like it - wow, what more could you ask for? The flowers last from the middle of summer until frost, and the perennial is hardy in zones 4-10.
Blazing star, Liatris spicata [Photo by Drew Avery (Flickr)]
The unique vertical shape and the fluffy flower texture of blazing star will give your garden added interest and extra butterflies. Blazing star is a tall, moisture-loving, heat-tolerant perennial that blooms in July and August. Aphrodite fritillary, tiger swallowtail, orange sulphur, and wood nymph butterflies are just a few that enjoy feeding on blazing star; it is also host to Glorious Flower Moth caterpillars, and goldfinches enjoy the seeds.
Asters, Aster species [Photo by Maja Dumat (Flickr)]
Asters are a valuable addition to the garden because they are one of the plants that bloom in fall when most other flowers are dying. This is great news for any remaining butterflies, especially migrating monarchs. Pearl crescent larvae use the aster as a host plant, which makes the aster especially valuable in the butterfly garden. The small star-shaped blooms come in pink, purple, blue, white, and yellow, although the yellow ones suffer from an untreatable virus. Some asters can reach up to eight feet tall, so be sure you pick one that is the right size for your garden.
Goldenrod, Solidago species [Photo by Dendroica cerulea (Flickr)]
When I hear the word "goldenrod," I can't help but think of the vivid yellow crayon named after this plant. Yes, goldenrod is famous for its sunny yellow flower stalks, but it should be famous for its service to insects as well. Goldenrod can be invasive in the garden, so you may want to plant it in pots before putting it into the ground to keep it from spreading. This plant attracts monarch, clouded sulfur, American small copper, and gray hairstreak butterflies.
Autumn Joy Sedum, Sedum x "Autumn Joy" [Photo by Leonora Enking (Flickr)]
"Autumn Joy" stonecrop is one of the most popular perennials in my area; I see them everywhere, and it is not hard to guess why. The deep coppery-pink flower heads seem to last forever, and the plants bloom from August to November; even the dead flower heads provide interest in winter. The flowers are flat-topped and brightly colored, which is perfect for attracting butterflies, especially the variegated fritillary. The plant is extremely hardy and easy to care for.
Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorum purpureaum [Photo by InAweofGod'sCreation (Flickr)]
Joe-Pye weed is another valuable plant that blooms in later summer and autumn when other plants have stopped for the season. It is naturally a very tall plant for the back of the garden, reaching up to seven feet in some cases, but smaller types are available. It does require moist soil, especially when planted in full sun. It is quite hardy and deer-resistant; in addition to this, Joe-Pye weed attracts butterflies such as tiger swallowtails and black swallowtails.
Zinnia, Zinnia species [Photo by liz west (Flickr)]
Zinnias are colorful, old-fashioned annuals that are very easy to grow from seed. They remind me of jewels with their bright colors and varying shapes. However, not all zinnias attract butterflies equally; the taller ones with the bigger blooms seem to attract butterflies the best. Tall "State Fair Mix," "Cut and Come Again," and "Zowie! Yellow Flame" are some types that butterflies like to frequent. Monarchs, swallowtails, and painted ladies are some of the butterflies seen sipping nectar from these beauties.
Lantana, Lantana species [Photo by Jason (Flickr)]
Let's just say that there aren't many butterflies that don't enjoy drinking nectar from lantanas. With their flat-topped, brightly colored flower clusters, lantana practically screams "drink me!" to butterflies. Lantana has the added benefit of being fragrant, beautiful, and versatile, working well in a flower bed or in a container. Although we usually treat lantana as an annual flower, it is in truth a tender perennial.