Plant choices abound for every style of garden, from cottage to formal; there is something for every gardener. Butterflies need both, host and nectar plants to survive and thrive. Host plants offer a place for mature butterflies to lay the eggs that hatch into tiny caterpillars. These tiny caterpillars eat the leaves of the host plant. Nectar plants offer sweet food in the form of blooms for mature butterflies.
Blue Cardinal Flower (Lobelia syphilitica)
Lobelia syphilitica is native to the U.S., blooming in varying shades of blue from early summer to mid fall. L. syphilitica grows between 2 and 3 feet tall and has a spread of 10 to 18 inches. Grown in USDA zones 4 to 9 in full sun to partial shade and normal to moist soil, this plant will thrive and draw several species of butterflies to the garden. L. syphilitica is a nectar source for the Clouded Skipper, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Fiery Skipper, Silver-Spotted Skipper, Sachem and Zabulon butterflies.
Brazilian Verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
Verbena bonariensis is a prolific bloomer of purple flowers atop stems that reach to 4 feet tall. This verbena self-seeds, causing it to spread 5 feet or more. Blooms appear from June through August. V. bonariensis thrives in USDA zones 7 to 11 in full to part sun in average to dry garden soil. This is a good nectar plant for the American Lady, Black, Clouded Sulphur, Crossline Skipper, Dun Skipper, Gray Hairstreak, Hayhurst's Scallopwing, Horace's Duskywing, Least Skipper, Little Glassywing, Monarch Blue, Ocola Skipper, Orange Sulphur, Painted Lady, Peck's Skipper, Pipevine, Red-Banded Hairstreak, Red-Spotted Admiral, Sachem, Tawny-Edged Skipper, Variegated Fritillary, Wild Indigo Duskywing and others.
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)
Alcea rosea is a favorite biennial plant grown in most cottage gardens. Grown from USDA zone 2 to 9, these plants will reach 7 feet tall when grown in full sun and constantly moist, fertile soil. A. rosea is a favorite host plant for several butterflies including the Checkered Skipper, Common Hairstreak and the Painted Lady. It is also a nectar source for the American Painted Lady, Common Checkered Skipper and Gray Hairstreak butterflies.
Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)
Willows offer both, food and home to several kinds of butterflies. Almost all willow trees and shrubs are butterfly-friendly. Three more to consider growing to attract butterflies are the Coastal Plain Willow (Salix caroliniana), Black Willow (Salix nigra) and the Sandbar Willow (Salix exigua). The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak, Red-Spotted Purple, Viceroy, Weidemeyer's Admiral and the Western Tiger Swallowtail use willows as host plants. As a food source, willows attract the Tiger Swallowtail, Mourning Cloak, Red-Spotted Purple, Viceroy, Western Tiger Swallowtail and the White Admiral butterflies.
Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota)
Glycyrrhiza lepidota, also called American licorice plant, is native to the U.S. where it grows along stream banks and in open meadows. Clusters of yellow-white blooms stand out from the lance-shaped leaves of the plant from May through August. G. lepidota is a host plant to the Melissa Blue and the Silver-spotted Skipper butterflies.