Attracting a few butterflies to your flower garden is easy. Attracting a host of butterflies takes a little more finesse. Some flowers are more attractive to butterflies, so if you fine-tune your efforts, you can design a garden that lures a multitude of these ethereal creatures by catering to their preferences.
Butterflies have color preferences in flowers. They are particularly drawn in by red, purple, pink, orange and yellow blossoms, while blue-green shades are not as enticing. Although a mixed-color flower garden delights our senses, butterflies seem more delighted by groups of same-color flowers that are massed together. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a native perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9 with brightly colored yellowish-orange flowers that are irresistible to butterflies. The flower panicles of butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) typically attract larger and showier butterflies in USDA zones 5 through 10 with colors that include red, purple and pink.
Butterflies typically don’t hover above flowers when they feed on nectar. They need to have a suitable landing pad where they can rest and insert their retractable proboscis, preferring flowers that have wide, flat petals or clusters with tubular blossoms. In USDA zones 10 through 11, lantana (Lantana camara) attracts butterflies to its flower clusters, some of which have different colors in each cluster. Another butterfly favorite, garden verbena (Verbena x hybrida), a perennial in USDA zones 9 through 10, has rounded clusters made of flat-petaled flowers.
Flower fragrance may trump flower color in attracting butterflies, notes University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. A fragrant flower holds the hope of sweet nectar to butterflies, so flowers that produce an alluring fragrance are able to attract pollinators. In USDA zones 3 through 9, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) releases an intoxicating fragrance during nectar production that attracts at least 42 butterfly species, including the monarch. Native or heirloom flowers are typically more fragrant than hybrid varieties.
Butterflies seek flowers with more than nectar in mind. Females lay eggs on host plants so that their hatchling larvae have a food source. Hungry caterpillars do not feed on nectar, but on the leaves of a host plant. Host plants are butterfly-specific, but some plants, such as milkweed, serve dual duty -- monarch butterflies feed on the nectar and their caterpillars eat the leaves. Although monarchs may feed on nectar from other plants, they may pass your flowers by in search of milkweed.
- Penn State Extension: Gardening for Butterflies
- University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service: Attracting Butterflies with Native Plants
- Texas A&M AgriLife Extension: Attracting Butterflies
- Floridata: Buddleja Davidii
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Butterfly Gardening
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Lantana Camara
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Verbena x Hybrida
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Asclepias Tuberosa
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Asclepias Syriaca
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service: Planting a Butterfly Garden
- Photo Credit erniedecker/iStock/Getty Images
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