Monarch Butterfly

Monarch butterfly on milkweed (Photo by GardenGates)

There are a number of plants that attract butterflies to their nectar or are a food source for the caterpillars. Planting some of these plants will encourage butterflies to visit your garden. Both the type of butterflies you get and the plants you plant will vary depending on your geographical location. Each geographical area, logically, will attract local species more with native plants.

Certain families are well-known food plants such as the milkweed (Asclepias species) is for the Monarch butterfly. A lot of butterflies are plant family specific, like the Gulf Fritillary loves the Passion Vine (Passiflora). Some species will even die out if their food source is lost, but others adapt. Some Swallowtail butterflies have seen their native diets reduced with land clearing, but they've adapted to plants in the parsley family (including fennel, carrot, cilantro, etc.) as a second choice. Check your local native plant experts for the best recommendations.

Some of butterfly-attracting plants may be considered invasive in your area. A lot of plants can be invasive in one part of the country and not in another. And different varieties of a plant considered 'invasive' may be more or less of a problem. I've found the local universities often have wonderful information on invasive plants as do some of the state sites.

The Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) is considered an invasive pest in some parts of Washington state. It will seed itself itself in a number of areas of California, but it isn't likely to be very aggressive in most locations. While in Massachusetts it is difficult to seed naturallyat all. There are also other Buddleias like the B. globosa or the B. asiatica that are non-invasive and often need to be coaxed and coddled to grow well. This is just one example of butterfly-loving, invasive plant impacts in different locations.

Other elements in a garden that will help attract butterflies are water sources like fountains, ponds, even bird baths, and places to alight, like tall flowers, grasses and shrubs. If you make your garden hospitable to butterflies, they really will come using some of these ideas for creating your own butterfly garden.