Plants in a butterfly garden should satisfy the needs of all stages of the butterfly's life cycle. Nectar-producing plants will attract adult butterflies, but they may not be the same plants needed to host eggs and larvae. The pupa stage may require yet another type of plant. Learn about the specific plant needs of butterfly species local to your area if you want to provide a habitat where they can thrive.
Nectar plants are the flowering plants that attract adult butterflies to your garden. Provide flowering plants that have a long blooming season, or grow plants with staggered blooming times so a source of nectar will be available over a long period of time. Plants that offer long-lasting flowers with nectar enjoyed by a wide range of butterflies are butterfly bush (Buddleia), butterfly weed (Asclepias), Lantana, purple cone flowers (Echinacea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), Joe-Pye weed, bee balm (Monarda), common milkweed, asters, marigolds, clover and zinnias.
Host plants are a necessary part of a complete butterfly garden. They enable butterflies to complete a life cycle in the immediate area. Adult butterflies seek host plants that will serve as a food source for their larvae when they hatch. They lay eggs on the host plants, so the food source will be immediately available to the caterpillars. Dill, fennel, parsley and carrots are host plants for common types of butterflies. Common milkweed, alfalfa and clover are food for other caterpillars. Willow, cottonwood, and chokecherry host the larvae of other species. Some butterfly species require a specific host plant, such as the monarch, which needs milkweed, or the zebra swallowtail, which uses pawpaw trees as a host.
Plants for Pupae
After the caterpillars have chewed and eaten the host plants, and are mature enough to pupate, they will select twigs and branches for the chrysalis stage. Gardeners sometimes do not like the appearance of the host plants after they have been ravaged by caterpillars, but it is essential to a complete life cycle. Locate host plants in a corner of the garden where they will not be highly visible if this bothers you. Caterpillars seek out undisturbed areas to pupate. Areas where the pupae may be developing should be left in a natural state. If you destroy the shelter plants while a butterfly is in the pupa stage, or chrysalis, the life cycle ends.