Butterfly Attracting Plants

Few outdoor activities are more rewarding than attracting butterflies to a well-designed butterfly garden. Creating a butterfly garden can be as simple as planting a windowsill box or as complex as landscaping many acres. To be successful requires the correct choice of plants.

The total butterfly garden takes into account the food preferences of both adult butterflies and their caterpillars. Many butterfly species will drink nectar from a variety of flowering plants, but their caterpillars often only feed on a limited number of plants. It is not necessary to plant larval food plants to attract butterflies, but adults tend to stay fairly close to the areas where their larval food plants can be found.

There are four stages in the amazing butterfly life cycle: egg, larva, chrysalis (resting), and adult. Butterfly eggs are laid on the larval food plant and caterpillars emerge within a few days. These larva have enormous appetites and do nothing but eat. When their skin is stretched as far as possible, they molt. After a few molts, they seek shelter. Some spin a safety belt that holds them upside down, while others hang on with special hooks on their abdomen. At this time, the final molt takes place and the larva skin is replaced with a stiff butterfly chrysalis (pupa). During this stage, the once worm-like caterpillar transforms into a beautiful, flying adult butterfly.

Phlox Zinnias Asters Marigolds Daisies
Rock gardens, borders flowerbeds, borders. White to scarlet to purple. Well-drained, sand, moist to dry. Sun. Bushy, erect, self-branching. Every shade except blue
Well-drained, rich soil-moist to dry. Full sun.
Delicate daisy-like flowers. White, purple, lavender, pink or red. Moist, well-drained. Full sun to light shade. Few insect, disease. Yellow, gold, orange, red and mahogany. Well-drained w/ organic matter. Full sun. Largest family of flowering plants and large color variety. Well-drained and watered. Sun.

Cornflowers Black-Eyed Susan MilkWeed Thistle Butterfly Bush
Wonderful addition to a garden. Prefer slight alkaline soil, but really not fussy.
Like to be slightly crowded. Shade.
Brown, center surrounded by bright yellow ray florets. Thrives most soils. Sun worshiper. Leaks a thick, white sap-a Monarch Butterfly’s favorite. Light soil better than heavy clay. Well-drained. Sun. Bull, yellow, or purple thistle. Mainly east Florida. Hundreds of tubular flowers. Banquet for butterflies. A butterfly magnet. Lilac-like clusters. Honey-scented. Well-drained soil. Loves sunny spots.

Most adult butterflies feed on flower nectar. Butterflies generally are attracted to brightly colored simple flowers that are not too deep and that are wide enough for good perching platforms.

White flowered varieties are not nearly as good for attracting butterflies as red, orange and yellow flowers. As a rule, small butterflies nectar from small flowers and large butterflies nectar from larger ones. Flowers that produce the most scent generally furnish the most nectar. Choose flowers so that some of them are always blooming. Remember that many flowers are never visited by adult butterflies but are attracted to aphids, manure, rotting fruit, mud, or tree sap. You will have to be selective in your plantings for specific butterflies. Remember if you are successful with your plant selection your plants may spend a portion of their lives nearly leafless as the caterpillars devour them.

Birds and other predators are quick to eat these larva so don’t do anything to encourage them. For instance no bird feeders. Most butterfly gardeners are quite pleased to share their carrots and dill for the pleasure of the company of black swallowtails; they simply plant some extra for the caterpillars. Insecticides are just as deadly to butterflies as they are to other insects, so remember that some insect activity goes with territory.

Butterfly gardening should not try to improve nature but complement it as the best horticultural practices have always done.


For more information go to: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW057
Butterfly Gardening in Florida. Joe Schaefer, Craig N. Huegel, and Frank J. Mazzotti. Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date December, 1990. Revised September, 2002. Reviewed January, 1999.