Plants that Attract Butterflies
Plants that Attract Butterflies
A butterfly garden is simply a flower garden that is designed to include nectar-rich flowers that butterflies love to visit. The ideal garden is one that supports both the adults and larvae, by offering a wide variety plants, grasses, and wildflowers. By providing the right mix of flowers, shelter, water, and sun it is easy to attract and sustain butterfly populations so they feel at home.
Butterflies go through a distinct series of life cycles: egg, larvae, pupa, and adult. Most butterflies only have one life cycle per year and as adults for only two to three weeks. During this brief period, they have high-energy demands to find a mate, reproduce, seek out food and shelter, and find nourishing nectar for fuel for all these activities. Requirements will also vary from species to species. Butterfly larvae (caterpillar stage), on the other hand, depends solely on certain plant species for food. Host plants range from annuals and perennials to trees and shrubs. While most larvae have voracious appetites, they only feed on a few plant species and any leaf damage is usually short-lived and non-threatening to the plant so it’s well worth the effort.
There are many factors that contribute to the success of a butterfly garden.
- Get to know what butterflies are in your area.
- Locate your garden in a sunny area. Flowers that need sunlight attract more butterflies.
- Landscape your garden in an area with flowers butterflies prefer. Many butterflies prefer plants with clusters of short tubular flowers.
- Use large swaths of color. Butterflies are attracted to flowers by their color, so planting in masses of flowers make it easier for them to find that single plantings.
- Provide continuous blooms throughout the growing season. Butterflies are active from spring into late fall, but mid-to late-blooming season flowers are when butterflies are most active.
- Provide food for your butterfly caterpillars. To increase the number of butterflies in your garden, include plants that caterpillars feed on.
- Include shallow watering areas. Many butterflies drink from moist soil or shallow puddles, sometimes forming large groups called puddle clubs.
- Provide sheltered, shady areas. Butterflies often need cool-down areas in hot weather and protection from wind, rain and predators.
- Use pesticides cautiously. Butterflies are easily killed by insecticides. Try using other methods of pest control, such as soaps or removing infected plants.
- Some butterflies do not nectar on flowers but prefer ripe fruit, sap flows, and carrion. Provide overripe melon rinds and fruit to the butterfly garden.
Fig. 1: Yellow Swallowtail on blazing star (Liatris aspera).
Fig 2: Monarch on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).
Fig 3: Swallowtail caterpillar on Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota).
a Tortoiseshell scarce in IL. Recorded in Cook & Kane, not in DuPage
b Tawny Emperor rare in the north. Recorded in Cook & Kane, not in DuPage
c ‘Karner’ Melissa Blue rare in IL, larva feed only on Lupinus perennis, which is found by Lake Michigan – mainly in Wisconsin and Indiana
d Spicebush Swallowtail – common throughout the state, not recorded in DuPage County; found in Will and Cook counties
e Pipevine Swallowtail – scarce in northern IL counties, seen in Cook & Will counties, not sighted in DuPage
f Milbert’s Tortoiseshell – not recorded in DuPage County but found in Cook, Will, and Kane counties
g Horace’s Duskywing – found in Cook County, not recorded in DuPage County
h Atlantis Fritillary – scarce, only recorded in Cook County
Want to learn more about Butterflies?
References for Butterfly Lists
Bouseman, John K. and Sternberg, James G., Field Guide of Butterflies of Illinois, Illinois Natural History Survey, Champaign, IL (January 2001)
Dole, Claire Hagen, ed. The Butterfly Gardener’s Guide, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Inc., New York (2003)
Lewis, Alcinda, ed. Butterfly Gardens: Luring Nature’s Lovelist Pollinators to Your Yard, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York (1995)
R.T.Mitchell and H. S. Zim, Butterflies and Moths – A Golden Guide, Golden Press (1977)
Schneck, Marcus, Butterflies: How to Identify and Attract them to Your Garden, Quarto Publishing, Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania (1990)
Wasowski, Sally, Gardening with Prairie Plants, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota (2002)
Schneck, Marcus, Butterflies: How to Identify and Attract Them to Your Garden, Quarto Publishing, Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania (1990)
ORTHO’s All About Attracting Hummingbirds and Butterflies, Meridith Books, Des Moines, Iowa (2001)
USGS Northern Prairie Research Center Web site section on Butterflies of Illinois,
- Butterfly bush 99%
Botanical Name: Buddleia davidiiCommon Name: Butterfly Bush Updated 2/2012 'White Profusion' form 'Royal Red' flower Click an image to enlarge Height: 6-8' Spread: 5-8' Habit/Form: Upright spreading Growth...
- Swamp Milkweed 50%
Botanical Name: Asclepias incarnata Common Name: Swamp Milkweed Updated 2/2012 flower seeds Height: 2-5' Spread: 2-3' Habit/Form: Upright Zone: 3-9 Cultural Requirements: Full sun...
- Buttonbush 46%
Botanical Name: Cephalanthus occidentalis* Common Name: Buttonbush Updated 2/2012 Click image to enlarge form leaf fruit trunk Height: 6-12' Spread: 12-18' Habit/Form: Upright...
- Summersweet Clethra 43%
Botanical Name: Clethra alnifolia Common Name: Summersweet Clethra Updated 3/2012 form flower Fall leaves Click on image to enlarge.Height: 6-8' Spread: 4-6' Habit/Form: Oval to...
- River Birch 43%
Botanical Name: Betula nigraCommon Name: River Birch* Updated 2/2012 Click on an image to enlarge. Form Winter form Leaf Bark Height: 40-70' Spread: 40-60' Habit/Form:...
- Spicebush 42%
Botanical Name: Lindera benzoin *Common Name: Spicebush Updated 10/2012 Click on image to enlarge Winter form Fall form Fall leaf Fruit Bark Height:...