What Are The Best Perennials To Attract Butterflies?

It’s always wonderful to have a flower garden, but if you’re going to plant flowers, be sure to plant those that attract butterflies and provide them with the food and habitat they need to grow and prosper. 

A butterfly garden filled with abundant, carefree perennials will bring early color to your yard each year and attract butterflies and other pollinators throughout the spring and summer. 

Butterfly enjoying the goldenrod nectar

In this article, we present a collection of twenty of the best perennial garden plants to provide a nectar source for butterflies. Also, we include a list of four top host plants that provide a good place for butterflies to lay eggs and caterpillars to eat and grow.

We also share nine tips to help you create the most welcoming butterfly garden. 

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Yarrows (Achillea spp.) Zone: 3 to 9

Yarrow is a very attractive plant featuring fern-like foliage and lively, lush blossoms. It is a good choice for a setting that has full sun and moist, well draining soil conditions.

Yellow flowering perennial Achillea filipendulina yarrow
Blooming Yellow perennial Achillea filipendulina (Yarrow)

If you deadhead the blossoms throughout the spring and summer, you will encourage consistent blooming to attract and feed even more butterflies.

More  about Fern Leaf Yarrow Care 

Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber) Zone: 5 to 8

You may hear this plant referred to as Jupiter’s Beard. This woody based perennial grows well in even the poorest soil. The plant grows in bushy clumps and presents pretty, fragrant star-shaped blooms in white, pink and crimson.

Blooming Centranthus Ruber - Red Valerian
Blooming Red Valerian

The blossoms transition into fluffy seed heads like those found on dandelions. Although the plant hails from the Mediterranean, it has easily naturalized in many parts of the United States. You can prevent unwanted spread by deadheading before seed heads form.

Details on Centranthus ruber (Red Valerian) Care

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) Zone: 3 to 8

This pretty pinkish/purple wildflower grows freely in the open woods, meadows in prairies throughout the southeastern and central United States.

Blooms of the Coneflower Echinacea
Flowering Coneflower Echinacea

Plants stand between 2′ feet and 4′ feet high. The daisy-like blossoms feature large central cones of seeds.

Coneflower is attractive to butterflies, bees and birds. It also has a number of uses in folk medicine and can be used to make tea.

Tips on Purple Coneflower Care (Echinacea)

Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) Zone: 3 to 8

This wildflower can be found growing freely in prairies, fields, open woods and other areas where the soil is fairly dry and well draining.

Goldenrods’ tiny yellow flowers grow in clusters at the ends of two or three foot tall, sturdy reddish stems. Blossoms appear in the mid-summer and persist through late summer.

While you might worry that Goldenrods would cause allergy problems, this is a myth. The fact that they bloom at the same time as ragweed has damaged their flowering plant reputation.

Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) Zone: 4 to 9

Joe Pye weed is a wild plant that grows freely on wooded slopes, in thickets and in low, moist areas such as wet meadows and stream margins.

Butterfly enjoying the nectar of the Joe Pye weed flower
Butterfly tasting nectar from the Joe Pye weed flower

The plant may grow to be between 4′ feet and 7′ feet high. It’s coarse leaves are deep green, lance shaped and may be a foot long.

The small flowers are pinkish-purple and smell like vanilla. They grow in full, domed clusters that are extremely attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.

The flowers transition into seed heads that provide winter interest in your garden while simultaneously providing food for birds.

More on Joe Pye Weed Uses and Care (Eupatorium purpureum)

Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) Zones: 3-9

There are many different types of daylilies available in a wide variety of colors. You can amass a full collection to have blooms from early in the spring until late in the summer.

bright blooms of the daylily
bright daylily flowers

These hardy plants do well in well draining soil with lots of organic matter. They thrive in a partial shade to full sun setting.

Daylilies are good choice for areas where you may need erosion control. They are attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and also deer.

Take care because these plants are quite toxic to cats.

Learn Tips on Growing Daylilies

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) Zones: 3 to 9 

This herbaceous perennial produces pretty, pink thistle-like flowers. It can thrive in a part shade to full sun setting and does well in soil that is consistently moist.

Lilac bee balm monarda flower up close
Lilac Monarda flower (bee balm) up close

Deadhead regularly throughout the growing season to promote constant blooms. Bee balm is deer resistant.

Details on Monarda Bee Balm Plant Care

Rudbeckia (Rudbeckia spp.) Zone: 3 to 7

These pretty, daisy-like wildflowers are commonly called Black Eyed Susan. They grow freely along roadsides, on cleared land and in open prairies, fields and woods across the United States. 

Rudbeckia Maxima flowers - Great Coneflower
Blooms of Rudbeckia Maxima

Flowers are about three inches across and may be pure yellow or tinged with orange. The domed center disks are deep brown. 

Deadhead flowers throughout the growing season to encourage more blooms and at the end of the season to discourage excessive self seeding. 

More on Growing Rudbeckia Maxima

Showy Sedum (Sedum spectabile) Zone: 3 to 9

You may hear this cold hardy succulent referred to as:

  • Showy Stonecrop
  • Hylotyphium
  • Live Forever
  • Orpine

This native of Japan, China, and Europe has adapted and grows well in many places around the world. 

Hylotelephium ‘Autumn Joy’
Sedum Spectabile Hylotelephium ‘Autumn Joy’

There are many different varieties with Autumn Joy a popular variety. Generally speaking, the plants have a rambling growth habit and can grow to be a couple of feet high. 

They produce pretty flowers in various colors depending upon the species. All are extremely attractive to butterflies and other pollinators. 

Learn more on Sedum Autumn Joy Care (Sedum Spectabile)

Verbenas (Verbena spp.) Zones: 6 to 10

This southern favorite does best in full sun and well draining soil. It produces abundant, sweet scented blooms in shades of:

  • Purple
  • Cream
  • White
  • Pink
  • Red
Annual flowers of the Verbena plant, good for ground cover.
Verbena Flowers

Its showy, gorgeous blossoms are a favorite of butterflies, bees and other pollinators.

Grow Tips and More on Verbena Plant Care

Gayfeathers (Liatris spp.) Zone: 3 to 8

You may also hear this tall, attractive native plant referred to as:

  • Dense Blazing Star
  • Marsh Blazing Star
  • Blazing Star

This clump-forming plant can grow to be between 2’ feet and 4’ feet high in your garden, but in the wild it may grow to be as tall as 6’ feet high.

liatris gay feather
Attractive spikes of Gayfeather

Blazing Star blooms all summer long. The plants’ pretty, fragrant, purple flowers grow in thick, round, fluffy heads atop tall, leafy flower stalks. 

The leaves are grass like and medium green and may grow to be about a foot long.

Growing Details, and More on Gayfeather Plant Care

Hardy Ageratum (Eupatorium Coelestinum) Zones: 5 to 10

Mistflower is a wildflower that grows freely throughout the Eastern US. This herbaceous perennial spreads very quickly and easily through rhizomes. 

Blooms of the Floss Flower Ageratum
Flowering Floss Flower Ageratum

The plants’ stems are purple and a bit furry. Leaves are oval or deltoid in shape, and the many tiny flowers are bluish purple and tubular. 

Mistflower blooms from midsummer to mid-autumn and does well in damp areas, such as ditches, stream banks, the verge of ponds and damp woodlands. 

Tips on Hardy Ageratum Flower Care

Swamp Sunflower (Helianthus)

This herbaceous perennial is native to Texas, Louisiana and Florida. It is a member of the Asteraceae family. 

Blooms of the swamp sunflower - Helianthus angustifolius
Flowering Swamp Sunflower – Helianthus

Plants spread through rhizomes and grow to be between three and eight feet high. 

Like all sunflowers, they like full sun and add a splash of cheery yellow color to any garden. Pollinators enjoy the flowers, and birds enjoy the seeds. 

Coreopsis Lanceolata (Lanceleaf tickseed) Zones: 3 to 8

Brightly colored, daisy-like, drought and deer resistant Coreopsis is an excellent choice for wildscaping, xeriscaping or simply adding to your butterfly garden. 

Blooming coreopsis
Flowering Coreopsis

Plants bloom most abundantly from late spring through early summer, but you can extend the blooming season by deadheading spent blooms. 

More on Coreopsis Flower Care

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia Cardinalis) Zone: 3 to 9

This wild perennial grows naturally in damp locations, such as swamps, sloughs, near springs and along stream banks. 

Cardinal Flower: Learn Striking Red Lobelia Cardinalis
Red Blooming Cardinal Flower (Lobelia Cardinalis)

This clumping plant produces bright red, tubular flowers atop 2-3’ high stalks. 

The late summer bloom time is brief but very beneficial to hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators. 

Learn How To Grow The Red Cardinal Plant

Sages (Salvia spp.) Zones: Varies by species. 

There are numerous species of salvia or sage offering a wide assortment of colorful blooms. 

Blooming Salvia
Flowering Salvia Plants

These easy care perennial herbs do well in poor, sharply draining soil. They bloom abundantly for many weeks in a full sun setting. 

Because they are drought and deer resistant, they make an excellent addition to your desert garden. They also blend in well in your butterfly or herb garden. 

More on Growing Salvias

Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) Zone: 4 to 8

This wildflower grows naturally throughout the southeastern United States. It thrives in moist settings, such as alluvial banks, damp woods and thickets. 

Blooming Garden Phlox [Phlox Paniculata]
Flowering Garden Phlox [Phlox Paniculata]

This hardy plant grows to be two or three feet wide and as tall as four feet. 

The pretty leaves are deep green and may grow to be six inches long. 

Deeply fragrant flowers, tubular in shape and range in color from white to pinkish purple. The plant typically blooms from mid-summer to early autumn. 

Details on Growing Garden Phlox

New England Asters (Aster novai-angliae) Zone: 4 to 8

This native wildflower grows abundantly along stream banks, in valleys and thickets and across damp meadows and prairies. 

Blooming Aster Novae-Angliae (New England Aster Plant)
Flowering New England Aster Plant

Robust and easy to grow, New England asters have a sturdy, upright growth habit and abundant daisy-like blooms. 

The flowers are about an inch and a half across and are purple with yellow centers. 

More on Growing New England Asters

Frikart Aster (Aster xFrikartii) Zones: 5-8

These pretty asters are a cross between the Aster amellus from Italy and the Aster thomsonii from the Himalayas. 

The plant combines the best features of its parents by presenting masses of deep purple blooms with bright, showy orange/yellow centers on three-foot high, bushy, deep green plants. 

Lantanas (Lantana spp.) zones 8 to 11

All 150 species of Lantana may be grown as perennials or annuals depending upon your climate. 

Lantana flowers and care
Lantana flowers in assorted colors

Lantana blooms are made up of clusters of multiple tiny blossoms that bloom continuously from early spring to mid-autumn. The individual blooms come in a wide variety of colors, so the clusters are attractively multi-colored. 

Tips on Lantana Tree and Bush Care

4 Top Host Plants for Larvae

Host plants provide food for caterpillars, which will grow up to be butterflies. Monarch caterpillars must have milkweed to survive. Most caterpillars like milkweed, as well as thistle and clover. Many other types of butterflies (especially Black Swallowtails) eat herbs, such as fennel, carrot greens, parsley and dill. Here are four of the best choices in host plants for your butterfly garden. 

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) Zone: 3 to 9

This milkweed spreads by tubers and grows naturally in open, dry, rocky settings such as along the roadside, in fields and prairies and in glades and light woods. 

blooms of the butterfly weed - Asclepias plants
Flowering Butterfly Weed (Asclepias)

The plant grows to be a maximum of 3’ tall and presents showy orange/yellow flowers atop slightly drooping, hairy stems. Flowers turn into attractive seed pods filled with silky-tailed seeds that are spread by the wind when the pods burst. 

These plants are an important food source for a wide variety of butterflies. They are also essential host plants for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. 

Learn More of Growing Butterfly Weed Asclepias

Swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus militaris) Zone: 4 to 5

This unusual Hibiscus can thrive in the northeastern United States and into Canada. It is very similar in appearance to tropical Hibiscus, but this plant is a Midwestern native plant that is quite cold hardy and makes an excellent addition to any northern butterfly garden. 

Details on Swamp Hibiscus Care

Sweet violet (Viola odorata) Zone: 5 to 10

Wild violets are one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring.

flowering viola odorata plant
Blooming Viola Odorata

With their pretty, fragrant lavender and purple blooms and attractive heart shaped leaves, they delight gardeners and hungry pollinators, alike. Violets are an important early food source for bees and butterflies. 

Learn Details on Growing Sweet Violet

4. Wormwood (Artemisia spp.) Zone: 4 to 9

This woody perennial is sometimes called absinthe, and it is used to produce the alcoholic beverage of the same name. 

The plant has very inconspicuous, tiny yellow flowers, but its foliage is quite striking. Leaves are 2-5 inches long and covered with white, silky hairs. They grow on tall, furry, grayish-green stems. 

The foliage and stems are very fragrant when crushed. 

9 Tips to Help You Create a Beautiful Butterfly and Pollinator Garden

#1 –  Create a garden that attracts, shelters, and nourishes butterflies and other pollinators. Add some of the plants listed here to your yard and garden.

#2 – Your butterfly garden should provide an area and opportunity to observe your visitors. Plus, give them sunlight, warmth, shelter, and plenty of places to relax and bask in the sun. Objects such as wooden fence posts and flat stones make excellent butterfly perches.

#3 – A safe, reliable source of water is also necessary for a successful butterfly garden. Provide shallow water in puddles, birdbaths, and the like. Include stones for butterflies and bees to alight and drink without drowning. 

#4 – Don’t combine your butterfly garden with your bird garden. Remember birds often eat butterflies. Keep your birdfeeders, birdhouses, and birdbath in a separate area. 

#5 – Your butterfly garden should also be separate from your vegetable garden. Caterpillars should be safe in your butterfly garden. Plus, you don’t want them munching on your veggies. 

#6 – When planning your butterfly garden, use flower shades adult butterflies find attracted to:

  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Purple
  • Red
  • Pink

Provide a mix of native and non-native plants. This way butterflies will find familiar plants and be able to try others.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center provides specific, state-by-state lists of the best butterfly garden flowers.(www.wildflower.org/collections/)

#7 – Pay close attention to the flowering times of the plants you choose. Select a mixture that provides continuous blooming from early spring until late autumn. Flower scent and color attract butterflies. Try to create a combination that provides both of these attractants. 

#8 – Be careful not to situate your butterfly garden in an area subject to high winds. A sheltered area near a wall, fence, or building is best. You can also plant fruiting shrubs as a windbreak. Fruit, some butterflies enjoy,  especially when the fruit is overripe. 

Good choices include: 

  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Crabapples
  • Shadbush
  • Ciborium

#9 – Some types of butterflies may need overwintering sites. Some species overwinter as adults. Others need shelter in the caterpillar, chrysalis and/or pupa stages. 

You find butterfly hibernation boxes for sale. But butterflies do not prefer them, but wasps do. You are better off providing natural shelter. Perennial plants, brush piles, leaf litter, peeling tree bark or unused outbuildings provide protection from hungry birds and winter cold.

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