20 Great Plants for Butterflies

Bring beauty and pollinators to your garden with a mix of these of annuals, perennials, and woody plants

Fine Gardening – Issue 211
plants for butterflies

Because butterflies need a mix of host and nectar plants to survive, butterfly gardens also provide a wonderful cornucopia of beauty for the gardener. Annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs that flower at different times of the year are the best choices. While butterflies are particular about the host plant species their caterpillars will feed on, they are less choosy about the nectar plants they feed on as adults.

The best location for a butterfly garden is an open sunny space. Placing trees and shrubs on the outskirts of the garden (without shading much of the garden) provides a welcomed butterfly escape or shelter from high winds and storms. Here is a list of great plants for butterflies, which provide a range of sizes and flower colors as well host and nectar plant options. A butterfly garden is the perfect type of garden for you to be creative and do what works for you. If you have food and shelter for the butterflies, they will be happy.

Host Plants

1. Dutchman’s pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla, Zones 4–8): Pipevine swallowtail host plant

Tropical milkweed
Tropical milkweed. Photo: Jennifer Benner

2. Tropical milkweeds (Asclepias curassavica and cvs., Zones 8–11): Monarch host plant

3. Pawpaws (Asimina triloba and cvs., Zones 5–9): Zebra swallowtail host plant

4. Redtwig dogwoods (Cornus serica and cvs., Zones 3–8): Spring azure host plant

Bronze fennel
Bronze fennel. Photo: Michelle Gervais

5. Bronze fennels (Foeniculum vulgare and cvs., Zones 4–9): Eastern black swallowtail host plant

6. Tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera and cvs., Zones 4–9): Eastern tiger swallowtail host plant

Parsley. Photo: Jennifer Benner

7. Parsleys (Petroselinum crispum and cvs., Zones 5–9, grown as annual): Eastern black swallowtail host plant

Garden rue
Garden rue. Photo: Michelle Gervais

8. Garden rues (Ruta graveolens and cvs., Zones 4–10): Eastern black swallowtail and giant swallowtail host plant

Nectar Plants

Calendula. Photo: Jennifer Benner

9. Calendulas (Calendula officinalis and cvs., annual): Blooms in spring and fall

Stonecrop. Photo: Jennifer Benner

10. Stonecrops (Hylotelephium, Petrosedum, Phedimus, and Sedum spp. and cvs., Zones 3–11): Blooms in late summer to fall

Lantana. Photo: Michelle Gervais

11. Lantanas (Lantana spp. and cvs., Zones 7–11): Blooms in summer to fall

Blazing star
Blazing star. Photo: Michelle Gervais

12. Blazing stars (Liatris spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9): Blooms in summer

Alyssum. Photo: Steve Aitken

13. Alyssums (Lobularia maritima and cvs., annual): Blooms in spring and fall

Bee balm
Bee balm. Photo: Michelle Gervais

14. Bee balms (Monarda spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9): Blooms in late spring to summer

Pentas. Photo: Michelle Gervais

15. Pentas (Pentas lanceolata and cvs., Zones 10–11): Blooms in summer

Black-eyed Susan
Black-eyed Susan. Photo: Michelle Gervais

16. Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9): Blooms is summer to fall

Goldenrod. Photo: Jennifer Benner

17. Goldenrods (Solidago spp. and cvs., Zones 2–8): Blooms in summer to fall

purple aster
Aster. Photo: Michelle Gervais

18. Asters (Symphyotrichum and Eurybia spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8): Blooms in fall

19. Marigolds (Tagetes spp. and cvs., Zones 2–11): Blooms in summer to fall

Zinnia. Photo: Jennifer Benner

20. Zinnias (Zinnia spp. and cvs., annual): Blooms in summer to fall

Eric Perrette is a lead horticulturist at Powell Gardens in Kingsville, Missouri, and has expertise in native butterflies and their habitats.

Learn more about plants for butterflies and pollinators:

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