How to Tempt Butterflies into your Garden

A look at the plants to grow in your garden that will attract butterflies to your garden.

Making a Butterfly Garden

In addition to plants, some of the most beautiful and colorful things that you see in the garden are butterflies (though the caterpillars can be pesky little things if they are eating your favorite plants :-)

Ideally a butterfly garden should have several different types of habitats in order to attract many different kinds of butterflies.

An ideal setup will provide all of the following for the insects: Food plants for the larvae; Nectar sources for the adults; water (in the form of a mud pool); sunlight and shelter.

Plants that provide food for the caterpillars are known as host plants. Butterflies will be attracted to these to lay their eggs.

Different butterflies are attracted to different plants, and an individual species will generally only lay eggs on one or two different types of plants.

This is because caterpillars extract chemicals from plants which will be toxic to predators. A good example of this is the Monarch butterfly that lays its eggs only on the milkweed family of plants.

Butterfly Garden

The second type of plants which will attract butterflies to the garden are those that provide food for the adults. Ideal plants include Aster, Morning Glory, Trumpet Vine and Day Lily.

Butterflies are attracted to flowers both by color and scent. They prefer flowers that are pink, white, yellow, orange, red or purple.

Plants that have scents that act as magnets to butterflies include Dethra, Viburnum Laurustinus, Heliotrope, Butterfly bush and Spicebush.

Knowing which Types of Butterfly to Attract to your Garden

If a species of butterfly is not local to your area then there is little point trying to attract it to your garden.

Therefore one of the most important aspects of planning a butterfly garden is to observe what butterflies are present in your area, you should also observe which plants that the butterflies are attractive to.

If you are unsure of species identification then it will be a good idea to contact a local natural history society or a biologist at the closest university.

The simple fact is that if a butterfly is not present in the area, you will not be able to attract that species regardless of which plants you grow.

Butterfly in the garden

Here is a list of some European Butterflies and the plants that they are attracted to (for US/Australia) see below.

Garden Plants to Attract European Butterflies
Butterfly Species
Plant Species
Peacock Nettle, Buddleias
Small Blue Kidney Vetch
Essex Skipper Cock's-foot; Common Couch; Creeping Soft-grass; Meadow Foxtail
Small Skipper Yorkshire-fog
Large Blue Wild Thyme
Pearl-bordered Fritillary Violets
White Admiral Honeysuckle
Adonis Blue Horseshoe Vetch
Northern Brown Argus Common Rock-rose
Painted Lady Thistles; Mallow; Nettle; Viper's-bugloss
Red Admiral Nettle; Pellitory-of-the-wall; Hop
Small Tortoiseshell Nettle
Large Tortoiseshell Elm; Willow; Aspen
Common Blue Bird's-foot-trefoil; White Clover
Swallowtail (Britannicus) Milk-parsley
Swallowtail (Gorganus) Wild Angelica; Wild Carrot
Orange tip Cuckooflower; Garlic Mustard; Turnip; Charlock; Large Bitter-cress; Honest; Dame's-violet
Gatekeeper Bents; Fescues; Common Couch; Meadow grass

There are 416 species of butterflies native to Australia alone and the sheer range of habitats within the country makes it difficult to choose which ones to list, but here is a small sample of Australian butterflies, and which plants attract them

Australian Butterflies and the Plants that attract them: Brought to you by
Butterfly Species
Plant Species
Fivebar Swordtail Soursop; Miliusa traceyi; Canary Beech; Yellowwood
Green triangle Soursop; Dwarf Ylang Ylang; Biriba; and Annonaceae genus members
Gilberts Blue Mistletoe
Hobart Brown Perennial Ryegrass and members of the grass family (Poaceae)
Palmfly Lawyer Vine
Common Albatross Australian Native Holly; Yellow Tulip
Orange Jezabel Mistletoe
Iris Skipper Cogon Grass; Guinea Grass; Sugar Cane

For further information on Australian butterflies please visit this website.

For the North American section I will list plants and the type of butterfly that they attract.

North American Plants that attract Butterflies
Plant Species
Butterfly Attracted to the Garden
Amaranth Scalloped Sootywing
Ash Baltimore; Tiger Swallowtail
Aster Buck eye; Checkered Skipper; Question Mark; Pearly Crescentspot; Painted Lady; Red Admiral; Sulphurs; Whites
Aspen Compton Tortoiseshell; Dreamy Duskywing; Mourning Cloak; Red-spotted Purple; Tiger Swallowtail; Viceroy
Birch Tortoiseshell, Dreamy Duskywing; Mourning Cloak; Tiger Swallow tail
Butterfly Bush American Painted Lady, Comma, Mourning Cloak; Milbert’s Tortoiseshell; Painted Lady, Red Admiral; Swallowtails
Beauty Berry Giant Swallowtail
Button Bush American Painted Lady; Monarch;Tiger Swallowtail
Cleome Checkered White
Cottonwood Compton Tortoiseshell; Dreamy Duskywing; Mourning Cloak; Red-spotted Purple; Tiger Swallowtail; Viceroy
Cherry Spring Azure
Daisy Cloudless Giant Sulphur; Pearly Crescentspot; Red Admiral
Dill Eastern Black Swallowtail
Elm Comma; Mourning Cloak; Question Mark
False Indigo Dogface
Flax Variegated Fritillary
Goldenrod American Painted Lady; Giant Swallowtial; Gray Hairstreak; Painted Lady; Red Admiral; Sulphurs; Viceroy
Hackberry American Snout Butterfly; Hackberry Butterfly; Mourning Cloak; Tawny Emperor
Heliotrope American Painted Lady; Orange Sulphur
Hercules' club Giant Swallowtail
Hollyhock Common Checkered Skipper; Painted Lady
Honeysuckle Checkerspots; Swallowtails
Joe-pye Weed Metalmarks; Spice bush Swallowtail
Knotweed Blues; Coppers; Fritillaries
Lantana Cabbage White; Fiery Skipper; Gulf Fritillary; Swallowtails
Lupine Blues; Eastern Pine Elfin
Milkweed Blues; Hair streaks; Mourning Cloak; Monarch; Swallowtails; Sulphurs
Mint Large Wood Nymph; Hairstreaks; Monarch; Painted Ladies; Red Admiral; Swallowtails; Whites
Morning Glory Cloudless Giant Sulphur
Musk Mallow Gray Hairstreak; Painted Lady
Nasturtium Whites
Oak Hairstreaks; Sleepy Duskywing
Passion flower Gulf Fritillary
Pearly Everlasting Painted Lady
Plum Spring Azure
Poplar Compton Tortoiseshell; Dreamy Duskywing; Mourning Cloak; Red-spotted Purple; Tiger Swallowtail; Viceroy
Privet American Painted Lady; Painted Lady; Red-spotted Purple; Spring Azure
Red Clover Alfalfa Butterfly; American Painted Lady; Cabbage White; Clouded Sulphur; Painted Lady; Red Admiral; Skippers
Purple Coneflower Great Spangled Fritillary ; Silvery Blue; Silvery Crescentspot; Tawny-edged Skipper
Queen Ann’s Lace Eastern Black Swallowtail; Gray Hairstreak
Sicklepod Blue-banded Skipper; Mercurial Skipper; Sulphurs
Snapdragon Blackeye
Summer Sweet American Painted Lady Spicebush; Question Mark; Red Admiral; Red-spotted Purple; Swallowtail
Sunflower Crescentspots; Tiger Swallowtail
Violet Falcate Orangewing; Great Spangled Fritillary; Meadow Frittilary; Spring Azure
Wild Petunia Crescentspots; White Peacock
Wild Senna Blue-banded Skipper; Mercurial Skipper; Sulphurs
Willow Brown Elfin; Mourning Cloak; Red-spotted Purple; Swallowtails; Viceroy
Wormwood Fiery Skipper; Great Spangled Fritillary; Monarch; Painted Lady; Tiger Swallowtail
Yarrow American Copper; American Painted Lady

In addition to the butterfly garden plants listed above the following plants are known to attract a wide array of moths and butterflies: Bachelor Button; Bleeding Heart; Catmint; Comfrey; Cosmos; Jupiter’s Beard; Golden rod; Lavender; Pot Marigold Sage; Stock; Sweet William.

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