Annuals That Attract Butterflies: Nectar | Hosts Plants

Beneficial fauna such as hummingbirds, songbirds, bees, and butterflies are an excellent and necessary addition to any garden.

How can you attract them and encourage them to stay?

Butterfly collecting nectar from a zinnia flower a butterfly favoritePin
Butterfly feeding from a zinnia flower

In this article, we share information about the best annuals for butterflies and keep them in your yard and garden. Read on to learn more.

Flowers Aren’t Enough To Attract Butterflies

Flowers attract butterflies and pollinators to your garden, but they aren’t always enough to feed offspring and provide these insects with a safe and comfortable home.

While flowering annual plants provide plenty of nectar for mature butterflies to eat, the plants they grow on may not provide anything for the caterpillars.

Caterpillars need good host plants that provide a place for butterflies to lay eggs and provide foliage that the caterpillars can eat.

Here are 13 of the best nectar plants you can provide for butterflies.

Immediately following this list, you will find a shortlist of good host plants and butterfly annual flowers that you should include in your butterfly garden.

So, what annuals attract butterflies?

You May Also Like: What Are The Best Perennials To Attract Butterflies?

13 Best Nectar Annual Plants for Butterflies

Here are 13 best annuals for butterflies:

Cosmos Sulphureus (Klondike): Zones 3 – 10

Sulfur Cosmos add a pop of color to any garden. Butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and people find these pretty plants attractive.

Red Cosmos flower growing in fieldPin
Flowering Red Cosmos growing in field | 296067780-DepositPhotos

Related: More on How To Care For Cosmos Flowers

These cheery, bright orange flowers grow quickly from seed sown directly into the soil.

Cosmos flowers do well in poor soil and reseed themselves easily from one year to the next.

Trailing Lantana (Lantana Montevidensis) Zones 9-11

This type of Lantana is an excellent ground cover that provides a great deal of color in the garden.

Blooms of the Purple Trailing LantanaPin
Purple Trailing Lantana

Related: Tips On Creeping Lantana Ground Cover Care

The lavender flowers look beautiful, spilling out of hanging baskets, over the edges of containers, or rambling over a rock wall.

These rugged, beautiful flowers provide curb appeal in some of the most challenging settings, such as along the sidewalk in front of your home.

Impatiens (Impatiens Walleriana) Zones 10 – 11

People often wonder, do butterflies like impatiens? The answer is YES!

Impatiens are popular annual flowers known for their bright and colorful blooms.

Blooming impatiensPin
Blooming impatiens growing in a decorative planter

But do impatiens attract butterflies?

However, they are not typically considered as top choices for attracting butterflies. While impatiens can provide a nectar source for butterflies, they are not as attractive to butterflies as some other annual flowers. 

This popular bedding plant is sometimes called Bizzie Lizzie. It is a great choice for a shady flower bed. There are several different varieties.

Related: Details on Growing Dwarf Impatiens

Some grow to be only 6” inches high, while others are 2’ feet high. These easy-to-grow plants flower all summer long. What colors do impatiens come in?

  • Orange
  • Purple
  • White
  • Rose
  • Lilac
  • Pink
  • Red

Moss Verbena (Verbena Tenuisecta) Zones 8 – 10

Hailing from South America, Moss Verbena presents small purple or violet flower bouquets.

Blooming Moss VerbenaPin
Moss Verbena Flower

Related: Learn More on Growing Verbena Flowers

This drought-tolerant plant has easily naturalized in the southern United States.

It grows wild and free throughout Florida and Georgia in waste areas, abandoned fields, and along the roadside.

This carefree, easy grower does well with full sun and sharply draining soil. In fact, it likes sandy soil that is not very fertile.

Narrowleaf Zinnia (Zinnia Haageana) Zone: 2 to 11

This type of Zinnia is also referred to as the Mexican Zinnia. It is a sturdy, bushy annual that may grow to be between 8″ inches and 16″ inches high.

Bright flowers of the Mexican Zinnia (Zinnia haageana)Pin
Colorful flowers of the Mexican Zinnia

Related: Details on Mexican Zinnia Care

The basic flower is bright orange, daisy-like, and about an inch across. There are also cultivars available in:

  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • White
  • Pink
  • Red

Gomphrena (Gomphrena Globosa) Zones 2-11

You may hear this compact annual referred to as Globe Amaranth. This plant features brilliantly colored magenta bracts in a globe formation.

Attractive flowers of the Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena)Pin
Blooming Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena) Up Close

Related: More on Gomphera Plant Care

The flower heads are clover-like and papery in texture. The true flowers are very tiny, trumpet-shaped, and come in shades of yellow and white.

The bracts present brilliant colors throughout the summer and into the autumn.

There are several cultivars of this plant available:

  • Purple
  • Violet
  • White
  • Lilac
  • Pink
  • Red

Firebush (Hamelia Patens) USDA Zones 8-11

This colorful, semi-woody shrub produces brilliant flowers from late in the springtime until early in the autumn.

Blooming Firebush in parking lot setting Palm Coast FloridaPin
Flowering Firebush in Palm Coast Florida |

Related: Tips On How To Care For The Hamelia Patens Firebush Plant

The beautiful red flowers attract all sorts of butterflies, especially the Gulf Fritillary butterfly and the Zebra Long Wing.

The flowers transition into berries, which provide a good food source for songbirds.

Under ideal conditions, this bush can grow to be 15’ feet high. In most gardens, its size can be controlled through pruning. It makes a nice specimen plant and is also a good choice as a hedge.

Pentas (Pentas lanceolata) Zone: 10 to 11

This native of East Africa and Yemen is also called Starflower or Egyptian Star. This small, woody-based shrub is a butterfly magnet that may grow to be 6’ feet high in its native lands.

Flowering Pentas annual growing in decorative container - Disney World OrlandoPin
Annual Pentas in bloom growing in decorative container – Disney World Orlando

Related: Learn How To Grow and Care For Pentas Flowers

In garden beds and containers, it usually tops out at 1’ or 2’ feet high.

The flowers of this pretty bush grow in attractive clusters that are about 4” inches around. They are covered in star-shaped pink, lilac, magenta, or white flowers throughout the summer and into the autumn.

Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens) Zone: 10 to 11

Heliotrope presents large clusters of sweet-scented, tiny violet flowers throughout the summer and into the autumn.

Fragrant Cherry pie heliotropePin
Fragrant Heliotrope known as Cherry pie

Related: Tips on Heliotropium Arborescens Care

This Peruvian shrub may grow as tall as 6’ feet in its native home. When grown in the United States, it usually does not grow to be more than 2’ feet high.

In areas where the winters are too cold for it, Heliotrope can be kept as a container plant indoors. When this is the case, it may grow to be a bit taller.

Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia Rotundifolia) Zone: 2 to 11

As with most sunflowers, this Mexican and Central American native grows quickly in the summertime to attain a height of 6’ feet tall.

Mexican sunflower being held in a handPin
Hand Held orange bloom of the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia)

Related: Growing Tips And Mexican Sunflower Care

It produces numerous orange and orange-red sunflowers with large, showy yellow central discs. The flowers are about 3” inches across each.

Zinnia (Zinnia Elegans) Zone: 2 to 11

There are many different cultivars of the common Zinnia. This easy-to-grow, compact, bushy favorite blooms continuously throughout the summer and well into the autumn.

Zinnia elegans bloomPin
Pink flower of Zinnia elegans

Related: Details on Zinnia Flower Care and Growing

A wide variety of flowers are available, including double, semi-double, and single petals.

Look for shades of:

  • Lavender
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • White
  • Green
  • Rose
  • Pink
  • Red

Zinnias come in sizes ranging from dwarf (6” inches) to giant (4’ feet tall).

French Marigold (Tagetes Patula) Zone: 2 to 11

The French Marigold grows to be between 6” and 12” inches high. Its pretty flowers come in shades of red, yellow, and orange.

Blooming French Marigold (Tagetes patula)Pin
Flowers of Tagetes patula (French Marigold)

Read: How To Care For Marigolds

Bicolor versions are also available. Flowers may be between 1” inch and 2” inches across.

13. Lantana (Lantana sdd.) Zones 9-11

This variety of Lantana is especially attractive to bees and butterflies. In very warm settings, Lantana makes a nice bedding plant. In cooler climates, it does well as a container plant.

colorful summer flowering lantanaPin
Colorful Blooming Lantana

Related: More on Lantana Bush and Tree Care

It can be kept as a houseplant through the cold winter months. Lantana does well in hanging baskets indoors or outdoors.

5 Best Annual Host Plants for Butterflies

Here are 5 annual plants for butterflies to consider planting in your garden:

Dill (Anethem Graveolens) Zone: 2 to 11

Dill is an excellent addition to any herb, flower, or vegetable garden. Its aromatic seeds and leaves are useful as ornamentation and in culinary pursuits.

Flowering Dill Anethum GraveolensPin
Blooming Dill Anethum Graveolens

Related: Details on Caring and Growing Dill Plants

Dill plants originated in the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, but the plants have followed human habitation and have quickly naturalized in many parts of the globe.

Dill plants may grow to be as tall as 5’ feet. The sweetly scented blue-green leaves make good food for butterfly caterpillars.

The tiny yellow flowers grow on large, flat, compound umbels that may measure as large as 10” inches across.

These pretty, useful plants are extremely attractive to butterflies and other beneficial insects such as:

Black Swallowtail butterflies are especially fond of this plant, and it is a larval plant for their offspring.

Parsley (Petroselinum Crispum) Zone 2-11

Parsley is another culinary herb hailing from the Mediterranean and Europe. Like dill, it has followed human habitation and has spread around the world.

This useful herb can be used in a wide variety of soups, stews, salads, and other dishes.

Parsley plants typically grow to be about a foot tall and have pretty, dark green leaves that present as either flat or curly depending upon the variety of Parsley chosen.

Selections include:

  • Italian or Flat Leaved Parsley (var. neapolitanum)
  • Curly Leaved Parsley (var. crispum)
  • Hamburg Parsley (var. tuberosum)

As with dill, the small, greenish-yellow flowers are borne on umbels atop 2 or 3-foot high stalks. This plant is also a favorite of Black Swallowtail butterflies.

Common Fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare) Zone 4-9

Fennel is an anise-flavored herb that looks quite a bit like dill but is much larger. Fennel may grow to be 6’ feet high.

The foliage is yellowish-green and feathery, and the flowers are small, yellow, and presented on large, flattened, compound umbels that bloom from mid-July to the end of August.

Fennel has naturalized easily throughout North America and is a favorite of several types of swallowtail butterflies.

Queen-Anne’s-Lace (Daucus Carota)

This wildflower grows freely throughout the United States and Canada. It is the plant from which the domestic carrot was derived.

Like the other host plants mentioned, Queen Anne’s lace presents tiny flowers that grow on modest umbels, which may be 5” inches across at maximum. 

Each umbel is made up of small umbellets, which each contain about twenty or thirty flowers.

The flowers are interesting because those along the outer edge have oddly sized petals, which may have notched tips. There may be a single, dark purple flower in the center of each umbel.

The plant grows to be a couple of feet high, and the leaves are long, feathery, and fern-like.

Rues (Ruta ssp.) Zone 4-8

This southern European native is a shrubby, woody perennial. It bears fern-like, aromatic compound leaves and grows to be about 2’ or 3’ feet tall.

Flowers of the Rue PlantPin
Blooming Rue Plant

Related: More Growing Rue and Rue Plant Care

Although originally a garden plant, Rue has naturalized in many parts of the United States, especially in the Northeast. You may find Rue growing wild in disturbed soil, open fields, and along roadsides.

This pretty plant produces attractive, blue-green foliage and four or five-petaled small, yellow flowers that grow in clusters throughout the summertime. The flowers transition to interesting-looking brown seed capsules.

This plant has a number of uses in folk medicine, but you should be advised that the leaves can be toxic when ingested and may cause contact dermatitis when handled.

Other Pollinator Favorites

Other colorful annuals that attract butterflies include petunias, phlox, salvia, and pot marigold.

Moreover, other butterfly garden flowers are:

  • Butterfly weed
  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
  • Coneflower (Echinacea)
  • Joe pye weed
  • Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower)
  • Asclepias spp. (milkweed)
  • Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Scarlet Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)

These annual flowers provide nectar-rich blooms that serve as a food source for adult butterflies. 

By planting various butterfly annuals in your garden, you can create an inviting habitat and attract diverse butterfly species.

Annuals Allow Variety from Year to Year

It’s always a good idea to set up a framework in your garden with perennials that will come back year after year. Don’t neglect the annuals to attract butterflies, though.

Annuals allow you to fill in empty spots quickly every summer. They also allow you to experiment with different sizes and colors in your butterfly garden.

So, make sure to plant annual butterfly plants.

Pink flowering Pentas plant a butterfly favoritePin
Pink blooming Pentas a butterfly favorite |

Recommended Reading On Annuals

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