If you have lots of butterflies fluttering around your garden, great! That signals that they’ve found some of their favorite flowers there. But, if you have only a few or none at all, you need to add plants that will provide lots of delicious nectar for them to drink.
The internet is loaded with lists of perennial plants for butterflies, but did you know there are also annuals they love? The nice thing about annuals is their versatility: they can go in the ground as well as pots right outside your door to draw butterflies up close. In your garden, plant them in masses to attract attention. On your deck, porch, or patio, place several pots close together for the same reason.
Butterflies are most attracted to plants that have flat-topped or clustered blossoms with short flower tubes. They favor 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 discouraging damage. However, if your goal is to attract them, insecticides must not be used. So, what to do if you don’t want your beautiful specimen plants to become unsightly?
Well, first, try not to kill the caterpillars. After all, some may be future swallowtails, Painted Ladies, Red Admirals, or other butterflies you love. It would be easy to move them from a favorite plant to a less-desirable one. But, unfortunately, they’re picky about what they’ll eat and will starve to death rather than feed on an unsuitable plant. For instance, if you moved a Black Swallowtail caterpillar from a parsley plant to a phlox, it would die. That’s because it must feed on a plant in the same family as parsley, such as a carrot or celery.
So, this would seem to leave us only two choices: Tolerate damage to precious plants or remove the caterpillars, knowing they’ll die.
But, we suggest a third alternative: plant duplicate plants out of the way somewhere or tucked behind your favorites. If caterpillars show up on your precious ones, simply transfer them to a duplicate.
Common butterflies and their native annuals
Our list here shows many of the most common species of butterflies and the native annuals they sip from. We’ve mined the internet, queried knowledgeable people, and included our own observations to build this list. 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|