Plants/flowers to attract butterflies

Michael Gochfeld gochfeld at
Mon Aug 23 06:42:44 EDT 1999

When I was in Utah, I was surprised to find that American Licorice was 
attractive to butterflies.  They were also swarming over Tamarisk, but 
that's not something for most gardens. 

Purple Coneflower is often very attractive (especially this year for 
some reason).  A variety of milkweeds should be tried. Some work better 
than others, depending on water conditions.  

Some flowers are good for only one or two species, but very good for 
those.  Also Buddleias vary greatly in their attractiveness.  Two side 
by side can be very different. Orange and yellow flowered varieties seem 
to be least attractive.  White is usually less attractive, but on some 
days can do well (we don't know whether this is a varietal feature or 
just how much nectar they have on a given day).  These differences 
aren't apparent except when you have two different Butterfly Bushes side 
by side. 

Verbena bonariensis and Mexican Sunflower are two butterfly flowers that 
can be incredibly attractive, but we've not had much success with them. 

Beds of Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena) are very attractive to skippers in 
late summer and fall, but not much else. 

We find that Knapweeds (Centaurea) are very attractive, but they are 
considered pests elsewhere and most people wouldn't deliberately 
introduce them (we didn't). 

Aside from Butterfly Bushes, there should be beds of flowers (rather 
than ones or twos). The beds assure that once a butterfly finds it, 
there will be enough nectar to keep them interested for a few hours.  
With only one or two plants, butterflies are likely to be in and out 
quickly.  Try more individuals of fewer species. 

However, in the end, you will have to experiment to see what works in 
your area.

M. Gochfeld
Somerset, New Jersey  

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