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All About Butterflies: Plants that Attract, Quiz & Much More!

5 min read | Dec 13, 2012 | Yard & Garden 

Creating a Haven for Butterflies

Ahhh, butterflies. Nature’s fanciful, fluttering, delicate creatures of flight. No matter your age, chances are a part of your soul smiles when you see a butterfly. Such wonderful creatures, fluttering from flower to flower. It is truly a site to watch these creatures morph from caterpillars into the colorful creatures they become. Watching the life cycle of a butterfly is really rather easy, with a little know-how and the proper plants.

Top Six Tips for Attracting Butterflies

To attract butterflies to your yard, and more importantly to see their entire life cycle, it is important to follow these simple guidelines:

1. Full Sun. Your garden must be in full sun, as butterflies need the sun to warm their bodies. It is also important to note that many of the plants that attract butterflies require full sun anyway. If space permits, plant several plants to make your yard more identifiable/visible to butterflies (and it will encourage them stay longer!).

2. Nectar Plants. Flowering plants produce the highest levels of nectar, and are a great food source for butterflies. Bright colored flowers usually work best. Butterflies seem to prefer red, yellow, dark pink, orange and purple flowers. Be sure to incorporate fragrant plants, too. The antennae of a butterfly are able to detect scent.

3. Host Plants. This is an important element of a butterfly garden that is often overlooked. While most of us plant the colorful, flowering plants that butterflies enjoy, it is as equally important to provide host plants for the butterflies to lay their eggs on; these plants later become a food source for the caterpillars. By providing host plants, you get to enjoy the life cycle of the butterfly. Those few “chewed” dill plants will be well worth it!

4. Absolutely No Pesticides! To put it simply, pesticides not only kill the “bad” insects, they kill the “good” insects, too. Pesticides are detrimental to the delicate caterpillars and butterflies, as well as other beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and praying mantis.

5. Learn about NC Butterflies. While we have included a list of nectar and host plants that will attract various butterflies to your yard/garden, you may want to attract a certain type of butterfly (black swallowtails, for example). Each zone attracts certain butterflies, and each butterfly has its own set of specific plant wants. To learn more about the various butterflies in North Carolina and what plants each butterfly prefers, visit the Butterfly and Moths of North America. Here you will learn about each butterfly in NC, see a picture of each, learn about their size, range, habit and nectar/host plant wants (and much more!). This is a wonderful resource!

6. Water Source. It is important for butterflies to have a source of water, too, so consider incorporating this element into your butterfly garden. A water source can be something as simple as a shallow bowl of water or a nearby bird bath, to something more elaborate, such as a water feature.

Whatever your level of interest or the size of your butterfly garden, one thing is for certain… if you plant it, they will come! Read on for our list of plants: annuals, perennials, trees & shrubs, to incorporate into your butterfly garden or landscaping plans. We have also included a link to a butterfly quiz as well as some monarch video footage that is a must-see (and will help you get a “birds eye view” of exactly what these marvelous creatures endure to become the colorful creatures they are)! Enjoy!

Now that we have covered the Top Six Tips for Attracting Butterflies, let’s move on to some of the plants that you can add to your butterfly garden and/or landscape that will lure these lovely creatures to “your neck of the woods.” Below you will find several plants, broken down by plant type (scientific name/common name), that will seal the deal!

Perennials for Attracting Butterflies

Abelia – Glossy Abelia
Achillea – Yarrow
Agastache – Giant Hyssop
Antirrhinum majus – Snapdragon
Aquilegia – Columbine
Asclepias incarnata – Swamp Milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa – Butterfly Weed
Aster – New England Aster
Calamintha – Calamint
Centranthus ruber – Red valerian
Centaurea – Centauera
Ceratosigma plumbaginoides – Plumbago
Chelone – Turtlehead
Chrysanthemum maximum – Shasta Daisy
Chrysanthemum frutescens – Argyranthemum
Coreopsis – Coreopsis
Dianthus – Pinks
Dicentra – Bleeding Heart
Echinacea purpurea – Purple Coneflower
Echinops ritro – Globe Thistle
Eupatorium coelestinum – Hardy Ageratum
Eupatorium purpureum – Joe-Pye Weed
Gaillardia grandiflora – Blanket Flower
Gaura – Whirling Butterflies
Helenium – Common Sneezeweed
Helianthus simulans – Swamp Sunflower
Heliopsis – False Sunflower
Hemerocallis – Daylilies
Heuchera – Coral Bells
Hibiscus militaris – Swamp Hibiscus
Iberis – Candytuft
Lantana – Lantana
Lavandula – Lavender
Liatris – Gayfeather
Lobelia cardinalis – Cardinal Flower
Lonicera – Honeysuckle
Lythrum – Wand Loosestrife
Monarda didyma – Bee Balm
Nepeta faassenii – Catmint
Nipponanthemum – Nippon Daisy
Parsley – Parsley
Penstemon – Beard Tongue
Phlox paniculata – Garden Phlox
Rhododendron – Azalea
Rosa – Rose
Rudbeckia hirta – Black-Eyed Susan
Salvia – Sages

Perennials for Attracting Butterflies

Scabiosa – Pincushion Flower
Sedum spectabile – Showy Sedum
Solidago – Goldenrod
Spiraea – Spiraea
* Verbena bonariensis – Verbena
Veronica – Speedwell
Viola odorata – Sweet Violet
Wisteria floribunda – Japanese Wisteria

Annuals for Attracting Butterflies*

Anethum graveolens – Dill
Clerodendrum thomsoniae – Bleeding Heart Vine
* Foeniculum vulgare – Fennel
* Heliotropium arborescens – Heliotrope
Impatiens wallerana – Impatiens
Lantana – Lantana
Lavandula – Lavender
Nepeta spp. – Catmint
Origanum vulgare – Oregano
* Passiflora – Passion Flower
* Pentas lanceolata – Penta
Petroselinum crispum – Parsley
Plumbago auriculata – Plumbago
Rosa-sinesis – Hibiscus
Rosmarinum officinalis – Rosemary
* Ruta graveolens – Rue
Salvia officinalis – Sage
Tagetes erecta, T. patula – Marigold
* Verbena bonariensis – Verbena

Trees, Shrubs & Vines for Attracting Hummingbirds

Abelia – Glossy Ableia
Albizia julibrissin – Mimosa
Buddleia – Butterfly Bush
Caprifoliaceae – Weigela
Caprifoliaceae – Honeysuckle
Caryopteris – Caryopteris
Clethra – Pepperbush
Itea – Summersweet
Lonicera – Honeysuckle
Spiraea – Spiraea
Vitex – Chaste Tree

* Denotes a Host Plant for Butterflies


Butterfly Quiz: This fun little quiz will put your butterfly knowledge to the test! See how much you know about these fluttering little creatures!

Monarch Butterfly Life Cycle Videos: From Egg to Butterfly. All of this wonderful footage is compiled by one subscriber at We have gathered his footage and sequenced it in the various stages. This footage gives you insight regarding the various life cycle stages of the monarch. A must see!

Stage 1: Monarch Caterpillar Hatching from Egg

Stage 2: Monarch Caterpillar after Hatching from Egg to Chrysalis

Stage 3: Monarch Caterpillar Forming Chrysalis

Stage 4: Monarch Butterfly Metamorphosis:

For additional footage, you can visit his profile, where you will find additional monarch butterfly footage that includes mating, laying eggs and migration.