Butterflies in the Garden

Of the many creatures at home in the garden, few can match the grace and beauty of butterflies. They are important pollinators and a delight to see in any garden.

A garden that includes plants for the entire life cycle will attract a variety of native butterflies. Butterfly larvae need host plants for food and as a place to pupate, while adult butterflies require nectar sources for food and plants for egg-laying.

Tips for Planting a Butterfly Garden

  • Place your garden in a sunny place and provide rocks for butterflies to bask in the sun. Butterflies are sun-lovers and cannot fly until the sun's warmth heats their bodies.
  • Group plants together to create a mass of color.
  • Plant shrubs and trees nearby to offer a hiding place from predators and to shelter butterflies from the wind.
  • Provide moisture. Butterflies extract water and minerals from damp soil.
  • Avoid pesticides. They kill butterflies and their caterpillars.

To attract a diversity of butterflies and other pollinators in your garden, select a variety of plants with different floral colors, shapes, sizes and bloom times. The following plants are native to the Mid-Atlantic region and are listed based on their benefit for the different butterfly stages.

Caterpillar Host Plants Plants for Nectar Sources
Trees Shrubs
* Salix caroliniana (willow) * Symphyotrichum spp., Eurybia spp., etc. (aster species)
* Asimina triloba (pawpaw) * Coreopsis verticillata (whorled tickseed)
* Betula nigra (river birch) * Echinacea spp. (coneflower)
* Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam) * Eupatorium fistulosum (Joe Pye weed)
* Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud) * Gaillardia x grandiflora (blanket flower)
* Cornus florida (dogwood) * Gaura lindheimeri (Lindheimer's beeblossom)
* Juniperus virginiana (Eastern red cedar) * Heliopsis helianthoides (smooth oxeye)
* Ptelea trifoliata (common hop-tree) * Hibiscus moscheutos (rose-mallow)
* Sassafras albidum (sassafras) * Nepeta x faassenii (giant catmint)
* Quercus velutina (black oak) * Oenothera spp. (evening primrose)
Shrubs * Phlox carolina (thickleaf phlox)
* Lindera benzoin (spicebush) * Phlox paniculata (fall phlox)
* Rhus spp. (sumac) * Parthenium integrifolium (American feverfew)
* Viburnum dentatum * Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-eyed Susan)
Herbaceous Perennials * Sedum spp.
* Antennaria plantaginifolia (pussy toes)
* Symphyotrichum spp., Eurybia spp., etc. (aster species)
* Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed)
* Chelone glabra, C. lyonii (turtlehead)
* Penstemon digitalis (talus slope penstemon)
Grasses
* Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)