Shrubs and Perennials to Attract Butterflies

By Kimberly Toscano, butterfly photo credits © Bryan E. Reynolds

Look beyond annual blooms to incite a flurry of activity in the garden.

Gardeners tend to focus on a fairly narrow list of wildflowers in attracting butterflies to the garden. But not all butterflies are attracted to butterfly weed and zinnia. Different species prefer different nectar sources. To attract a greater diversity of butterflies, you need to plant the foods they crave. The following plant-butterfly associations are featured in the Southern Living®Plant Collection and include several surprises alongside must-have butterfly favorites.

‘Radiance’ Abelia

Flowering over a long season, the fragrant white blooms of abelia flutter with activity from mid-summer through fall. Red admiral butterflies, silver-spotted skippers, and swallowtail butterflies are commonly found hovering among the blooms. 

Flowering over a long season, the fragrant white blooms of abelia flutter with activity from mid-summer through fall. Red admiral butterflies, silver-spotted skippers, and swallowtail butterflies are commonly found hovering among the blooms.

Sunbow® Azalea Series

The large flowers of Solar Glow™and Solar Flare™azaleas lure key pollinators including the showy great spangled fritillary and eastern tiger swallowtail. Other swallowtails, including palamedes, also frequent azalea. 

The large flowers of Solar Glow™ and Solar Flare™ azaleas lure key pollinators including the showy great spangled fritillary and eastern tiger swallowtail. Other swallowtails, including palamedes, also frequent azalea.

Ultra Violet™ Buddleia

True to their common name, butterfly bush, buddleias are pollinator magnets. From skippers and sulphurs to monarchs and swallowtails, Ultra Violet™swarms with activity. A few showy visitors include zebra, eastern tailed blue, and painted lady butterflies. 

True to their common name, butterfly bush, buddleias are pollinator magnets. From skippers and sulphurs to monarchs and swallowtails, Ultra Violet™ swarms with activity. A few showy visitors include zebra, eastern tailed blue, and painted lady butterflies.

Crazy Pink™ Echinacea

Another butterfly garden staple, coneflowers draw a big crowd in the summer garden. Diminutive beauties like olive hairstreak, pearl crescent, and common sulphur fly among giant swallowtails and other beauty queens. Diana, Gulf fritillary, and viceroy butterflies are among common visitors.

Another butterfly garden staple, coneflowers draw a big crowd in the summer garden. Diminutive beauties like olive hairstreak, pearl crescent, and common sulphur fly among giant swallowtails and other beauty queens. Diana, Gulf fritillary, and viceroy butterflies are among common visitors.

‘Cosmic Firestorm’ Lantana

Season-long blooms in fiery hues are a big draw for swallowtail butterflies including giant, spicebush, and palamedes species. With large, yellow- and black-striped wings the zebra butterfly is hard to miss dancing among the blooms. Dainty visitors include dwarf yellow sulphur, long-tailed skippers, and common checkered skippers. Also watch for the intriguing ruddy daggerwing.

Season-long blooms in fiery hues are a big draw for swallowtail butterflies including giant, spicebush, and palamedes species. With large, yellow- and black-striped wings the zebra butterfly is hard to miss dancing among the blooms. Dainty visitors include dwarf yellow sulphur, long-tailed skippers, and common checkered skippers. Also watch for the intriguing ruddy daggerwing.

Stars & Stripes™ Pentas

Some of our showiest butterflies are attracted to the bright red flowers of Stars & Stripes™Pentas. In the Southeastern states, the colossal palamedes swallowtail can be found sipping nectar from pentas. The vivid Gulf fritillary and colorful zebra butterflies are also common visitors.

Some of our showiest butterflies are attracted to the bright red flowers of Stars & Stripes™ Pentas. In the Southeastern states, the colossal palamedes swallowtail can be found sipping nectar from pentas. The vivid Gulf fritillary and colorful zebra butterflies are also common visitors.

Salvias

There are too many magnificent salvias to highlight just one. Big-flowered varieties like ‘Amistad’and Ember’s Wish™attract some of the most popular butterflies including monarchs and Gulf fritillaries. The tidy blooms of ‘Little Kiss’ are visited by common sulphur and silver-spotted skipper. An assortment of swallowtails can also be found fluttering among salvia blossoms.

There are too many magnificent salvias to highlight just one. Big-flowered varieties like ‘Amistad’ and Ember’s Wish™ attract some of the most popular butterflies including monarchs and Gulf fritillaries. The tidy blooms of ‘Little Kiss’ are visited by common sulphur and silver-spotted skipper. An assortment of swallowtails can also be found fluttering among salvia blossoms.

EnduraScape™ Verbena 

Verbenas bloom with abandon, offering a constant source of nectar for visiting butterflies. Watch for the iridescent great purple hairstreak or the buckeye butterfly with its distinctive eyespots. On the west coast, look for the lovely anise swallowtail. Queen, monarch, and red admiral butterflies also frequent verbena.

Verbenas bloom with abandon, offering a constant source of nectar for visiting butterflies. Watch for the iridescent great purple hairstreak or the buckeye butterfly with its distinctive eyespots. On the west coast, look for the lovely anise swallowtail. Queen, monarch, and red admiral butterflies also frequent verbena.

Dark Blue Moody Blues™ Veronica 

The spiky blooms of veronica provide nectar all season long. One of the most common butterflies found darting between plants is the gray hairstreak, a small species found throughout North America. Another visitor, the common sulphur, glows against the deep blue blooms with bright yellow wings. Also watch for painted ladies and monarchs flitting among the blossoms. 

The spiky blooms of veronica provide nectar all season long. One of the most common butterflies found darting between plants is the gray hairstreak, a small species found throughout North America. Another visitor, the common sulphur, glows against the deep blue blooms with bright yellow wings. Also watch for painted ladies and monarchs flitting among the blossoms.

Sugar Cookie™ Sweet Viburnum

Each spring, clusters of small white blooms cloak sweet viburnum with an intoxicating aroma, luring Baltimore checkerspot butterflies from far afield. These colorful butterflies are named for the orange and white patterning on deep black wings. 

Each spring, clusters of small white blooms cloak sweet viburnum with an intoxicating aroma, luring Baltimore checkerspot butterflies from far afield. These colorful butterflies are named for the orange and white patterning on deep black wings.

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