Butterfly Lovers Buffet Plants

Butterfly lovers should plant a variety of plants, from trees and shrubs, to grasses and perennials for butterflies. But what are some of the best plants to attract butterflies, and other pollinators to the garden? How can butterfly lovers plant such a buffet of perennials, grasses, and other plants to attract the widest variety of butterflies?

After years of following moths and butterflies through the woods, fields, and gardens; I have come across a number of tried and true perennials, shrubs, vines, grasses, and annuals which are not only attractive to the butterflies as a nectar source, but also as a host plant. I will forego trees and shrubs today, as I have written much about trees for butterflies in the past. But there is a plethora of plants that butterfly lovers can add to the garden.

Annual Host Plants for Butterfly Lovers

It always surprises me on how many annual flowers are actually attractive to various butterflies and moths. However, most of the annuals plants deemed to be host plants for moths and butterflies are weeds either on the roadsides or in our lawns. But if we allow some areas of our lawn to be a place for weeds, or plant a meadow garden where some weeds can thrive, we can benefit more than just the butterflies we love.

Again, having a turfgrass lawn with an unbroken sheet of green of the same species, is detrimental to a healthy landscape. This monoculture, just like the monocultures of corn, soybeans, and other row crops, is low on diversity of insects, both pollinators and pests. Therefore, the key idea here is a biodiverse mixture of lawn grasses and broadleaf plants which not only benefit the soil and wildlife, but benefit you as well.

List of Annuals

  • Tropical milkweed – as a host to the Monarch butterflies, there is some concern about the extended bloom period of a subtropical species when it is planted far north of its range.
  • Celosia, along with pigweed and lambsquarters – host to the common sootywing butterfly.
  • Crabgrass – a great weedy grass for fiery and tawny-edged skippers.
  • Wild mustards like Dame’s rocket – host plants for checkered white butterflies.
  • Partridge pea – is a native annual in the legume family which is a host for the cloudless and clouded sulphur butterflies, little yellow butterfly, and sleepy orange butterfly.
  • Fetid marigold – a roadside wee which hosts the dainty sulphur butterfly.
  • Annual sunflower – plant these to host the Gorgone checkerspot, silvery checkerspot, and pearl crescent butterflies. Also, it is a host for the Zebra conchylodes and wavy-lined emerald moth.
annual host plants for butterfly lovers

Perennial and Vining Host Plants for Butterfly Lovers

This list could go on and on. But I will focus more on some of the better perennials and vines for the landscape, which are also host plants for butterflies and moths. There are a number of landscape worthy plants for butterfly lovers to put in their gardens. And then you can watch the caterpillars chow down.

Many people find it slightly annoying when they see caterpillars for the first time, munching away on their plants. And some people even try to get rid of them because, “the flowers are for the butterflies”, not the caterpillars the butterflies come from. But everything is better when you learn what eats what, and how to get along with them.

Perennial and Vine List

  • Rudbeckia, coneflowers, aster, perennial sunflowers – these are hosts for Gorgone and Silvery checkerspots, and the Pearl crescent butterfly.
  • Passion flower vine, wild violets – if you have both in the garden you are sure to have fritillary butterflies.
  • Senna, baptisia, groundnut – plant for hosting Eastern tailed blue, marine blue, clouded and cloudless sulphur, funereal duskywing, wild indigo duskywing, and the silver spotted skipper.
  • Fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, Golden Alexanders – are host to the black swallowtail butterfly.
  • Dutchman’s pipevine – are host to Pipevine swallowtails.
  • Wisteria – for Horace’s duskywing skipper.
  • Grape – is a host for grapevine epimenis moth, Virginia creeper sphinx moth, and Achemon sphinx moth.
perennials for butterflies

Annual Nectar Plants for Butterfly Lovers

Now that we have established some of the best perennials and annuals for hosting our butterflies, what annual flowers are best for providing nectar for butterflies in the garden? While just having a plethora of flowering plants might be the best thing to do, to attract a wide range of insects, there are some annuals and perennials which are better at providing nectar for our flying friends. By adding at least some varieites of the top 5 annuals in this list you will be attracting a wide range of butterflies. But if you have them all, then you have an even greater chance at seeing a lot of winged wonders!

  1. Annual sunflower
  2. Brazilian verbena
  3. Zinnia
  4. Helenium ‘Dakota Gold’
  5. Mexican sunflower
  6. Lantana
  7. Blanket flower
  8. Dame’s rocket
  9. Tropical milkweed
  10. Sweet William
  11. Annual salvia
  12. Gomphrena ‘Truffala Pink’ & ‘Fireworks’
  13. Firecracker plant
  14. Bachelor’s buttons
  15. Marigold
annual nectar plants for butterfly lovers

Perennial Plants

I keep about 100 genuses of perennial plants in my landscape. And I have several cultivars of many of those. The more diverse your garden is with flowers, the more butterflies, moths, and other insects you will see. In the summer, I am out every Sunday and weekday after work photographing and documenting the numbers I see. By keeping track of what butterflies visit what flowers with photography, I can give you a better list of perennial favorites that they feed on. I would recommend picking at least 10 out of this list, but more is better.

I am going to separate the list into native and nonnative plants because there are a lot of native perennials which butterflies love to gather nectar on.

Nonnative Perennials for a butterfly Lovers Buffet

  • Butterfly bush *Always check to make sure it is not invasive in your region, and try to get sterile cultivars when possible*
  • Tall sedum
  • Catmint
  • Daisy
  • Apple Mint
  • Garlic chives
  • Spearmint
  • Chocolate mint
  • Veronica
  • Betony
  • Meadow Salvia
nonnative perennials

Natives – Best Ones Listed First

native perennials


Choosing the right plants for a butterfly lovers buffet, or garden, is important. You need to pick not only those which provide nectar, but also those which are places for the caterpillars to grow. Just having nectar is not enough, you need both. Plan to diversify your garden for your favorite flying flower friends.

Happy planting!

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