Flowers for Butterflies
by Diane Linsley
Butterflies bring the garden to life with motion and beauty. Sadly, with the ongoing disappearance of wild land in our modern world, many butterflies are endangered and at risk of going extinct. The best way to protect them is to provide a safe habitat for them in your own organic garden.
How to Attract Butterflies
Adult butterflies are attracted to brightly colored flowers with shallow nectar tubes. They like to feed in the sun, so plant flowers in sunny spots. Morning to afternoon sun is best.
Butterflies lay their eggs on host plants that feed their larvae. Each butterfly species has its own food preferences. The more variety you have, the more butterflies you will attract.
Native Flowers for Butterflies
Are native flowers better for attracting butterflies than non-natives? You may notice that butterflies visit both types of flowers. So what's the big deal?
If you look at the list of butterfly host plants, you'll see that butterflies are picky about where they lay their eggs. Some butterfly larvae can only eat the leaves of a very small range of plants. For example, Monarch larvae can only feed on members of the milkweed family. Many of the host plants happen to be native wildflowers.
One reason why butterflies are endangered is because their host plants in the wild are disappearing. Host plants may not seem as glamorous as flowers, since watching adult butterflies is more entertaining than watching caterpillars. But we need to consider the needs of the butterfly in all its stages of life, including the "ugly duckling" stage.
Here's my list of the best flowers for butterflies and the host plants that support them through all the stages of life.
Annual Flower Seeds for Butterflies
Alyssum -- Masses of tiny white, pink or purple flowers from summer to fall. Self-sowing annual. Easy to grow from seed. Blue Woodruff -- Fluffy, lavender-blue flowers for butterflies in early summer. Self-sowing annual. Shade tolerant. Calendula -- Cheerful yellow, orange or apricot flowers. Easy to grow from seed. California Bluebells -- Cobalt-blue flowers for butterflies. Native wildflower. Easy to grow from seed. Cosmos -- Late summer flowers in a variety of colors, heights and styles. French Marigold -- The best marigold for attracting butterflies to your garden. Easy to grow from seed. Gilia capitata -- Native wildflower with small, round clusters of blue flowers. Larkspur -- Tall spikes of purple, blue, lavender, pink, rose and white flowers. Lavatera -- Large, cup-shaped pink or white flowers in midsummer. Linaria maroccana (Toadflax) -- Tiny, snapdragon-like flowers in a variety of colors. Quick to bloom from seed. Phlox drummondii -- Red, pink or white flowers. Native wildflower. Easy to grow from seed. Zinnia -- Colorful annual flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
Perennial Flower Seeds for Butterflies
Agastache foeniculum -- Lavender-blue flowers for butterflies. Native perennial. Blooms the first year from seed. Allium -- Round balls of purple flowers for butterflies in early summer. Alyssum saxatile -- Masses of yellow flowers for butterflies in late spring. Easy to grow from seed. Aster azureus -- A cloud of lavender-blue flowers in fall. Native perennial. Campanula americana -- Very tall stems of violet-blue flowers in late summer. Native wildflower. Centranthus ruber -- Masses of reddish-pink or white flowers in late spring. First-year flowering perennial for butterflies and hummingbirds. Delphinium -- Stunning blue, purple, pink or white flowers on tall stems. Great for butterflies and hummingbirds. Dianthus barbatus -- Sweet William. Pink, white or crimson flowers for butterflies in early summer. Hesperis matronalis -- Light violet or white flowers for butterflies and hummingbirds. Easy to grow from seed. Iberis gibraltarica -- Low-growing, evergreen perennial with pale lavender-pink flowers for butterflies in late spring. Makes a good groundcover. Lavender -- Highly fragrant flowers for butterflies in mid summer. Linum perenne (Blue Flax) -- Native wildflower for butterflies and native bees. Lunaria annua -- Shade-tolerant biennial with purple flowers in late spring, followed by showy seed pods. Lychnis -- Heirloom perennials with scarlet-red, purplish-pink or white flowers for butterflies and hummingbirds. Blooms for a long time in summer. Malva sylvestris 'Zebrina' -- Pale pink flowers with purple stripes. First-year flowering perennial for butterflies and hummingbirds. Self sows. Salvia -- Perennials with tubular flowers for butterflies and hummingbirds. Solidago nemoralis (Goldenrod) -- One of the best native perennials for butterflies, hummingbirds and beneficial insects. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) -- Perennial herb with tall stems of pale pink flowers that attract butterflies.
Butterfly Host Plants
Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) -- Native perennial. Host plant for Queen, Gray Hairstreak, and Monarch butterfly larvae, which can only eat members of the milkweed family. One of the best flowers for butterflies and hummingbirds. Aster novae-angliae (New England Aster) -- Native perennial. Host plant for Checkerspot and Pearl Crescent butterflies. Nectar source for Monarch and other butterflies. Baptisia australis (Blue Wild Indigo) -- Native perennial. An important host plant for many butterfly species, including Orange Sulphur, Clouded Sulphur, Eastern Tailed-Blue, Frosted Elfin, Hoary Edge, and Wild Indigo Duskywing. Callirhoe involucrata (Wine Cups) -- Host plant for Gray Hairstreak butterflies. The flowers attract bees and butterflies. Centaurea cyanus (Cornflower) -- Host plant for Painted Lady butterflies. The flowers attract butterflies and beneficial insects. Easy to grow from seed. Dalea purpurea -- Native perennial. Host plant for Marine Blue, Reakirt's Blue, and Southern Dogface butterflies. Dill -- Host plant for Black Swallowtail butterfly larvae. The umbel flowers attract other butterflies and beneficial insects. Echinacea purpurea -- Native perennial. Host plant for Silvery Checkerspot butterfly larvae. The flowers attract butterflies and beneficial insects. Eupatorium maculatum (Joe-Pye Weed) -- Native perennial. Host plant for Bordered Patch and Painted Lady butterflies. Large heads of mauve flowers for butterflies and hummingbirds. Gaillardia -- Native perennial. Host plant for Bordered Patch butterfly larvae. Scarlet-red and yellow flowers that attract butterflies and beneficial insects. Hollyhock -- Tall biennial with large flowers. Host plant for Painted Lady and Tropical Checkered-Skipper butterflies. Liatris spicata -- Native perennial. Host plant for Painted Lady and Silvery Checkerspot butterflies. Tall spikes of purple flowers for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. Lupinus perennis -- Host plant for Eastern Tailed-Blue, Frosted Elfin, and the endangered Blue Karner butterflies. Parsley -- Host plant for Black Swallowtail butterfly larvae. The umbel flowers attract butterflies and beneficial insects. Rudbeckia -- Native wildflower. Host plant for Painted Lady and Silvery Checkerspot butterfly larvae. The flowers attract beneficial insects. Ruellia humilis -- Native perennial with lavender-blue, trumpet-shaped flowers for butterflies, hummingbirds and beneficial insects. Host plant for the Common Buckeye butterfly. Blooms all summer into fall. Ruta graveolens -- Host plant for Black Swallowtail, Broad-banded Swallowtail, Giant Swallowtail, and King Swallowtail butterflies. Snapdragon -- Host plant for the Common Buckeye butterfly. The flowers attract bumblebees. Sunflower -- Host plant for Painted Lady, Bordered Patch, Gorgone Checkerspot and Silvery Checkerspot butterflies. The large, pollen-laden flowers attract many butterflies and beneficial insects. Sweet Pea -- Host plant for Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies. Verbena bonariensis -- Host plant for Common Buckeye butterflies. One of the best flowers for butterflies and hummingbirds. Viola tricolor -- Host plant for Variegated Fritillary, Great Spangled Fritillary, and Gray Hairstreak butterflies. The small flowers provide food for butterflies and beneficial insects in the cool weather of early spring and fall when there are few other flowers in bloom.