33 perennials guaranteed to attract butterflies

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Imagine a garden without the flutter of butterfly wings—it would feel empty, wouldn’t it? With their kaleidoscopic wings, butterflies aren’t just a feast for the eyes; they play a pivotal role in the cycle of pollination. Crafting a garden that captivates both human senses and butterflies’ discerning tastes involves selecting flora that dazzles and nourishes.

By choosing plants that serve dual purposes—offering nectar for the graceful adults and plants that caterpillars need for growth—you create an oasis that beckons these winged wonders.
In their adult form, butterflies seek out nectar to sip on, fluttering from bloom to bloom in a delicate dance of survival. Yet, their young, the caterpillars, are bound to the land, dependent on a very specific nursery of sorts: their host plant. This plant, chosen by their mothers to lay her eggs on, becomes their sole food source when the caterpillars hatch.

It’s a fascinating lifecycle, one that your garden can support. It can enrich the biodiversity of your backyard while providing a front-row seat to one of nature’s most enchanting shows.

Below are thirty-three native perennials (and a few annuals) that butterflies prefer for nectar and host plants. (Follow this link for a list of specific butterfly species and their preferred host plants.) Please take care never to apply insecticides to butterfly habitats. Also see: Native annuals for butterflies   

(* A special thanks to all the excellent photographers who generously allow their images to be used to enhance pages like this.)

Nectar perennials for butterflies

An Aromatic Aster plant covered with purple-colored flowers.

Aromatic Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium (Andrey Zharkikh / Flickr; CC BY 2.0)

Aster (Aromatic, New England, Smooth, et al.)
Aster spp.
Perennial
Bloom time: Late spring–Early fall
Zones: 3–9


Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta (Frank Mayfield / EOL; CC BY-SA 2.0)

Black-eyed Susan
Rudbeckia hirta
Annual, Perennial
Bloom time: Mid-summer–Early-fall
Zones 5–10


A stand of Dense Blazing Star filled with pink blooms.

Dense Blazing Star, Liatris spp. (Marc Ryckaert / Wiki; CC BY-SA 2.5(

Blazing Star (Dense, Prairie, et al.)
Liatris spp.
Perennial
Bloom time: Mid-spring–Early-fall
Zones 3–10


Blue False Indigo plant in bloom

Blue False Indigo, Baptisia australis (Fritzflohrreynolds / Wiki; CC BY-SA 3.00

Blue False Indigo
Baptisia australis
Perennial
Bloom time: Late spring–Mid-summer
Zones: 3–10


Common Boneset plant in bloom

Common Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum (H. Zell / Wiki; CC BY-SA 3.0)

Boneset (aka Snakeroot, Thoroughwort)
Eupatorium perfoliatum
Perennial
Bloom time: Early fall–Late fall
Zones 3–9


Butterfly weed plant in bloom growing amongst Yellow Corydalis, also in bloom

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa (SB Johnny / EOL; CC BY-NC 3.0)

Butterfly Weed
Asclepias tuberosa
Perennial
Bloom time: Mid-summer–Early-fall
Zones: 4–10


Cardinal Flower blossom

Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis (H. Zell / Wiki; (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Cardinal Flower
Lobelia cardinalis
Perennial
Bloom time: Late summer–Early fall
Zones: 2–10


Copper Iris blossom

Copper Iris, Iris fulva (Scott Loarie / EOL; CC BY3.0)

Copper Iris
Iris fulva
Perennial
Bloom time: Early spring–Spring 
Zones: 5–11


Close up of several Daisy Fleabane flowers, which are white with yellow centers.

Daisy Fleabane, Erigeron annuus (contri / Wiki; CC BY-SA 2.0)

Daisy Fleabane
Erigeron annuus
Annual or biennial
Bloom time: Mid-spring–Mid-summer
Zones: 2–8


Photo of a large planting of Hemp Dogbane in bloom with tiny white flowers.

Hemp Dogbane, Apocynum cannabium, and Gray Hairstreak Butterfly, Strymon melinus (Tony Frates / Flickr; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Dogbane
Apocynum cannabinum
Perennial
Bloom time: Summer
Zones: 2–8


Downy Phlox plant in bloom

Downy Phlox, Phlox pilosa (Aaron Gunnar / EOL; CC BY-SA 3.0)

Downy Phlox
Phlox pilosa
Perennial
Bloom time: Mid-spring
Zones: 4–9


Golden Rod plant in bloom with bright yellow flowers.

Goldenrod, Solidago sp. (WelcomeWildlife.com CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Goldenrod (Showy, Carolina Moonlight, et al.)
Solidago spp. (can be invasive)
Perennial
Bloom time: Varies; most in late-summer–Fall
Zones: 28


A Great Blue Lobelia plant with several purplish-blue blooms.

Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica (Doug McGrady / Wiki; CC BY 2.0)

Great Blue Lobelia
Lobelia siphilitica
Perennial
Bloom time: Late summer–Early fall
Zones: 3–9


A photo of a stand of Indian Blanket plants in bloom. The blossoms are red with a yellow fringe around them.

Indian Blanket (Duane Bryce / Flickr; CC BY 2.0)

Indian Blanket
Gaillardia pulchella
Annual
Bloom time: Summer–Early-fall
Zones: 3–9


Joe-pye Weed plant in bloom

Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium fistulosum (H. Zell / EOL; CC BY-SA 3.0)

Joe-Pye Weed
Eupatorium fistulosum
Perennial
Bloom time: Mid-summer–Early-fall
Zones: 3–8


Lanceleaf coreopsis plant in bloom

Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Coreopsis Ianceolata (Eleanor / Flickr; CC BY-NC 2.0)

Lanceleaf Coreopsis
Coreopsis Ianceolata
Perennial
Bloom time: Late spring–Mid-summer
Zones: 4–9


Spotted jewelweed blossom

Spotted jewelweed, Impatiens capensis (Fritz Geller-Grimm / EOL; CC BY 3.0)

Spotted Jewelweed
Impatiens capensis
Annual
Bloom time: Mid-summer–Early-fall
Everywhere except arid regions


Sundial lupine plant in bloom

Sundial Lupine, Lupinus perennis (Marc Ryckaert / EOL;C BY 3.0)

Lupine (Sundial, Perennial, et al.)
Lupinus spp.
Perennial
Bloom time: Spring–Summer
Zones: 3–9


A close up of a Purple Milkweed stem showing three different of blooms, from buds to open blooms.

Purple milkweed, Asclepias purpurascens (Derek Ramsey / Wiki; GNU Free Documentation 1.2)

Milkweed (Marsh, Rose, Swamp, Purple, et al.)
Asclepias spp.
Perennial
Bloom time: Varies
Zones 2–9


Missouri primrose blossom

Missouri primrose, Oenothera missouriensis (Joshm / Flickr; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Missouri Primrose
Oenothera missouriensis
Perennial
Bloom time: Late spring–Early-summer
Zones: 4–8


Native Yellow honeysuckle in bloom

Native Yellow Honeysuckle, Lonicera flava (Missouri Dept. of Conservation; PD)

Native Yellow Honeysuckle
Lonicera flava
Perennial vine (avoid non-native bush variety) 
Bloom time: Spring
Zones: 4–9


A close up of the pink flower of an Annual Phlox

Annual Phlox, Phlox drummondii (Neelix / EOL; PD)

Phlox
Phlox spp.
Annual, Perennial
Bloom time: Spring
Zones: 2–10


Purple coneflower blossom

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea (Danny Stevens / EOL; CC BY-SA 3.0)

Purple Coneflower et al.
Echinacea spp.
Perennial
Bloom time: Summer–Late-fall
Zones: 3–9


Purple poppy mallow plant in bloom

Purple Poppy Mallow, Callirhoe involucata (John Hilty / EOL; CC BY 3.0)

Purple Poppy Mallow
Callirhoe involucata
Perennial
Bloom Time: Early spring–Mid-summer
Zones: 3–9


Red Thistle, Cirsium occidentale (Matt Lavin / Wiki; CC BY-SA 2.0)

Red Thistle
Cirsium occidentale
Biennial
Bloom time: Spring
Zones: 2–9


Scarlet Sage plant in bloom

Scarlet Sage., Salvia coccinea (Carl Lewis / Flickr; CC BY 2.0)

Scarlet Sage
Salvia coccinea
Annual
Bloom time: Summer–Fall
Zones: 4–9


Spiked Gayfeather plants in bloom

Spiked Gayfeather, Liatris spicata (H Zell / EOL; CC BY-SA 3.0).jpg

Spiked Gayfeather
Liatris spicata
Perennial
Bloom time: Mid-summer–Late-summer
Zones: 3–10


Common sunflower blossom

Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus (Evening / EOL; CC BY-NC 3.0)

Sunflower (Common, Plains, Woodland, et al.)
Helianthus spp.
Annual, Perennial
Bloom time: Late summer–Fall
Zones 3–9


A close up of a Swamp Rose Mallow flower, which is white with a small red center.

Swamp Rose Mallow, Hibiscus Moscheutos (Virginia State Parks / Flickr; CC BY 2.0)

Swamp Rose Mallow
Hibiscus Moscheutos
Perennial
Bloom time: Late-summer
Zones 5–8


Southwestern mock vervain blossoms

Southwestern Mock Vervain, Glandularia gooddingii (Keir Morse / EOL; CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Verbena (Rose, Pink, Southwestern, et al.)
Verbena spp.
Annual, Perennial
Bloom time: Late summer–Early fall
Zones: 3–8


wild ageratum blossom

Wild Ageratum, Eupatorium coelestinum (Michael P. Riggs; EOL; CC BY-NC 3.0)

Wild Ageratum (aka Blue Mistflower) 
 Eupatorium coelestinum
 Perennial
 Bloom time: Late summer–Early fall
 Zones: 5–9


Wild geranium blossom

Wild geranium, Geranium maculatum (Anita / EOL; CC BY-NC 3.0)

Wild Geranium
Geranium maculatum
Perennial
Bloom time: Late spring–mid-summer
Zones: 3–8


Common Yarrow blossoms

Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium (Anita / EOL; CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Yarrow (Common, Mountain)
Achillea spp.
Perennial
Bloom time: Mid-summer–Fall
Zones: 1–11



More reading:

Native plants for hummingbirds  
Attract butterflies to your yard  
General anatomy of insects
In your yard: butterfly species  
Guidelines for collecting seeds 
Online native plant nursery: Prairie Nursery 

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