A selection of plants that attract butterflies can be presented in a variety of ways. Here I've chosen to present my selection so as to emphasize the diversity and the visual appeal of the specimens available. Whether you're looking for spring flowers, summertime favorites long used in cottage gardens, or shrubs valued for their fall color, you can easily find an option that will double as a butterfly magnet.
My list of plants that attract butterflies is obviously not exhaustive, its purpose being merely to whet your appetite. Click the links above the photos below to access more information on the featured plant. Bon appetit!
I alluded in my introduction to seasonal diversity, but we also find considerable diversity in terms of plant type when we peruse this list of good butterfly plants. Daffodils are classed as spring bulb plants, for example (more specifically, deer-resistant bulb plants, which is an important consideration in deer country). But you'll also see references below to perennials, annual plants, shrubs and trees.
Like daffodils, the ornamental onions, such as Allium schubertii, are bulb plants that flower in spring. The flowers of the latter, however, will appear later in the spring season than those of the daffodil. What I really like about this ornamental onion is how good it still looks even after the blooms have gone by. This is the feature I wanted to capture in my picture (at left), which shows the dried seed head in all its architectural splendor.
Pet lovers have less reason to be enthusiastic about this beauty, as I explain in my article.
Candytuft is another late-spring bloomer. This perennial can serve as a flowering ground cover. But other than its ability to draw butterflies, I value it mainly for the beauty of its flowers. Not only are the blossoms wonderful when viewed en masse, but I also like to admire the individual flowers up-close: the pattern their petals form is quite exquisite.
Rosa aficionados will be glad that I've worked at least one kind of rose into my list of plants that attract butterflies. Meanwhile, those who are hesitant about growing roses because they've heard they're hard to grow will appreciate the particular selection that I'm featuring. The fact is, this little landscape rose will grow like a weed even for the brown thumb.
Again, one of my criteria in composing this list of plants that attract butterflies is based purely on aesthetic considerations: my goal is to supply you with ideas for visually-appealing specimens to grow. That they happen to serve double-duty in drawing colorful winged wonders into your yard is just a bonus.
While many plants, including red hot poker (photo), are visually-appealing in their own right, it also pays to know a few of the tips used by the pros in designing a garden. By playing with these design principles, you can achieve a composition that is greater than the sum of its parts.
For example, the fact that red hot poker's flower has a spiky form makes it useful in landscape design. Juxtapose its flower spikes to something with a softer form to create a contrast.
I just mentioned a potential use for red hot poker: namely, to create a contrast in form. In my own landscape I grow it close to my 'Chocolate Drop' sedum. Not only do the two contrast in terms of flower form (the Chocolate Drop's flower head is dome-shaped), but also in color.
A related specimen that is another plant that attracts butterflies is the better-known 'Autumn Joy' sedum. As its name suggests, this sedum (or "stonecrop") comes into its own in fall.
Like red hot poker and Chocolate Drop sedum, Maltese cross is a perennial and a summer standout. While this classic flower did not make my list of the 10 best landscaping plants you may not know, it is certainly under-appreciated at present. This wasn't always the case: Maltese cross is one of those traditional cottage garden plants that people grew for ages. Our grandparents knew what they were doing!
But the selection of plants that attract butterflies is not limited to low-growing vegetation. Shrubs and trees are part of the mix, as well.
Viburnum shrubs are host plants for the caterpillars of spring azure blues. One example is Korean spice viburnum (photo), which puts out fragrant flowers in spring, then generously offers colorful fall foliage in autumn, to boot. Another example is arrowwood viburnum.
Or are you interested in something with pretty berries? You'll get that in spades with beautyberry shrubs. Not only are the berries of Callicarpa dichotoma 'Early Amethyst' numerous, they also come in an unusual color: purple.
10. Butterfly Weed
Lantana is a tropical flower, which is why Northerners treat it as an annual and grow it in hanging baskets or other container gardens. No matter how you use it, lantana can inject vibrant color into your landscaping. It is an invasive plant in Florida.
12. Wild Violets
What's your stance on wild violets in the landscape? Are they weeds or wild groundcover? This is one of those eye-of-the-beholder issues, so your answer will likely correspond to your overall landscaping philosophy. Those who gravitate toward a laid-back, natural look will tend to compare wild violets to johnny-jump-ups, noting, furthermore, that the former come free of charge. Those who prefer a manicured appearance in their landscape will probably wish to eradicate wild violets.
Regardless of the camp into which you fall, know that these dainty little wildflowers are plants that attract butterflies (does this influence your opinion of them?).
The foregoing is only a brief sampling of the plants that attract butterflies. I'll conclude by listing several more examples, linking to resources that provide details about each specimen: