Is it a visual treat to watch butterflies gracefully flutter around your garden? A silly question — of course, it is! And, it’s a treat for them, too — it means they’ve found some of their favorite flowers there. If you don’t have any or only a few butterflies visiting your yard, then you need to add plants that will provide lots of delicious nectar on which they can feed.
There are countless perennials available, but maybe you’d like to change things up a bit. Did you know that lots of annuals are native species? They’re both beautiful and resilient, unlike many of the cultivated species. Plant them in showy groups in your garden or add them to pots for your patio or deck to draw butterflies up close. The more, the better for attracting their attention.
Butterflies are most attracted to plants that have flat-topped or clustered blossoms with short flower tubes. They favor flowers of red, yellow, orange, pink and purple.
What to do about caterpillars
Butterflies will use some plants as hosts for their caterpillars, which will do some damage. However, if your goal is to attract butterflies, then insecticides must not be used. So, what to do if you don’t want your beautiful specimen plants to become unsightly?
If you’d like to preserve the life of a caterpillar (some of them may be future swallowtails or, perhaps Painted Ladies.) It would be so easy if we could just move caterpillars from a desirable plant to a less desirable one, or place it on the ground somewhere to let it find its way to a new host. Unfortunately, caterpillars are finicky about what they’ll eat — they’ll starve to death rather than feed on an unsuitable plant. For example, move a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar from, say, a parsley plant to a phlox, and it will starve to death. It must be placed a plant in the same family, which includes parsley, celery, and carrots. That would seem to leave us only two choices: Tolerate damage to precious plants or remove the caterpillars, in which case they die.
But, we recommend a third alternative: Plant some duplicate plants to set out of the way. If caterpillars show up on your specimens, simply move them over to the duplicates.
Common butterflies and their native annuals
Our list here shows many of the most common species of butterflies and the native annuals on which they nectar. We’ve mined the internet, queried knowledgeable people, and included our own observations, but the list is incomplete.
We’d like to hear from you about what annuals you’ve used and the butterflies you’ve observed on them. Please let us know, and we’ll add your data to the list, along with your name, if you’d like.
|Anise Swallowtail||Lantana, Petunia|
|Black Swallowtail||Phlox, Zinnia|
|Eastern Tiger Swallowtail||Lantana, Phlox, Globe Amaranth, Petunia|
|Spicebush Swallowtail||Lantana, Phlox, Cosmos|
|Western Tiger Swallowtail||Zinnia|
|American Lady||Marigold, Verbena, Globe Amaranth|
|Common Buckeye||Globe Amaranth|
|Great Spangled Fritillary||Verbena, Marigold|
|Gulf Fritillary||Impatiens, Lantana|
|Monarch||Cosmos, Lantana, Marigold, Zinnia, Globe Amaranth|
|Painted Lady||Cosmos, Marigold, Verbena, Zinnia|
|Pearl Crescent||Dandelion, Marigold, Globe Amaranth|
|Question Mark||Common Milkweed, Aster|
|Red Admiral||Lantana, Marigold|
|Variegated Fritillary||Marigold, Verbena, Globe Amaranth, Zinnia|
|Clouded Sulpur||Phlox, Marigold, Verbena, Globe Amaranth, Dandelion|
|European Cabbage White||Impatiens, Lantana, Marigold, Globe Amaranth, Dandelion, Zinnia|
|Orange Sulphur||Cosmos, Marigold, Verbena, Zinnia, Globe Amaranth, Dandelion|
|Sleepy Orange||Cosmos, Marigold, Zinnia|
|Gray Hairstreak||Lantana, Verbena, Globe Amaranth|
|Red-banded Hairstreak||Globe Amaranth|
|Clouded Skipper||Verbena, Globe Amaranth|
|Common Checkered Skipper||Verbena, Globe Amaranth|
|Common Sootywing Skipper||Globe Amaranth|
|Fiery Skipper||Lantana, Marigold, Globe Amaranth|
|Hayhurst's Scallopwing Skipper||Marigold, Verbena, Globe Amaranth|
|Least Skipper||Verbena, Globe Amaranth|
|Little Glassywing Skipper||Lantana|
|Ocala Skipper||Globe Amaranth, Zinnia|