attracting butterflies

The Plant Butterflies Absolutely Love

If you love butterflies like I do, you’ll want to read this post end-to-end.  Butterflies are arguably the most beautiful insects as a family.  Their striking colors and graceful flitting among the plants and flowers of your backyard are a pleasure to watch.

Some people are deathly afraid of insects.  Personally, I have a phobia about bees, hornets, and wasps – basically anything that stings!  But, butterflies are among the most benign creatures on the planet.  They go about their business hunting for flower nectar, places to lay eggs, and mates without any animosity or concern for us.

But how do you attract butterflies to your garden?  Well, just like birds, the key is to give them the habitat they need to thrive and survive.  That means food, places to raise their young, and shelter.

In order to attract many species of butterflies, you need to understand their life cycle.  All butterflies start as caterpillars, which are just larva of adults.  So, butterflies lay their eggs on host plants which the larva feed on to prepare them for the metamorphosis process in which they transform to butterflies.  Here is a really neat video that shows this process visually:


So, if you want to attract more butterflies, you need to plant both nectar plants (for food) and host plants (where they lay their eggs for the caterpillars to hatch and feed upon).  Each species uses a different host plant.  For example, Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed plants, and Spicebush butterflies lay their eggs on spicebush leaves (big surprise!).

And there are many nectar plants that butterflies like.  Too many to list in this article.  Some of them are Joe Pye weed, Butterfly weed, Purple Coneflower, and Asters.  However, my absolute favorite is Butterfly Bush.  It’s scientific name is buddleia.  This perennial bush is an absolute magnet for butterflies and other insects and is a must for any serious butterfly garden.

Butterfly Bush is a magnet for butterfliesButterfly Bush produces many long lilac-like flower blooms from mid-summer to early Fall.  So, it coincides perfectly with the big butterfly season when many butterflies have emerged from their chrysalis’.  The plant dies back in late fall and should be cut to the ground over the winter.  Then in spring it starts growing and can eventually reach a height of 5-7 feet or more depending on the climate and watering.  It’s very tolerant of heat, sun, and dry weather.

But the best part is watching all the butterflies, insects, and even birds that come to it.  I have a large butterfly bush right outside my office window and there is a constant parade of colorful butterflies and moths to it.  Plus, I get bees and hummingbirds feeding at the flowers also!  Conservatively, I’ve seen dozens of species of butterflies including:

  • Monarch’s
  • Viceroy
  • Tiger Swallowtail
  • Giant Swallowtail
  • Great Spangled Fritillary
  • Red Spotted Purple
  • Sulphur
  • Black Swallowtail
  • Silver Spotted Skipper
  • Painted Lady

And we also get a lot of Sphynx Moths, otherwise known as hummingbird moths.   These insects hover like hummingbirds above the blooms and often mistaken by people to be hummingbirds.

Most likely, your local nursery sells Butterfly Bushes.  They come in a few different colors – mostly shades of purple or white.  Just allow lots of room for it to grow.  And enjoy the parade of butterflies!


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Cornell Lab of Ornithology