Butterflies, with their strikingly colored, delicate wings, aren’t just good lookers. They serve an important purpose for many flowering plants they rely on for food, shelter and procreating. Pollination occurs as butterflies seek what they need from plants, often those that provide nectar. While roaming on their spindly legs, they pick up pollen and move it from flower to flower. Albeit less efficient than that involving bees, this symbiotic relationship between butterfly and plant ensures the survival of both.
Butterfly weed features bright orange flowers, organized into flat clusters reaching up to 5 inches across, which bloom from May through September and provide a broad landing surface for butterflies. This perennial bush reaches up to 3 feet tall. Grow this plant from seed or as a young nursery plant in well-drained soil and in an area that receives full sun or partial shade. Butterflies and hummingbirds like this plant for its abundant nectar.
The nectar from these daisylike flowers, featuring spiny, dark-orange disks in the center, also attracts butterflies. Purple coneflowers, which are perennials, come in pink and purple hues, reach up to 3 feet tall and bloom from April through September. Grow purple coneflower, also called Echinacea, in sun or partial shade and in well-drained sandy or rich soil. Like butterfly weed, this plant is drought tolerant.
Joe Pye Weed
As of 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture listed Joe Pye weed as a special concern in Maine, threatened in Michigan and endangered in New Hampshire. It is a native American perennial that grows up to 6 feet tall. The fragrant flowers are pink or purple and grow in clusters like on butterfly weed. Plant it in wet or moist landscaped areas that receive full or partial shade. Thickly sow seeds, since germination rates are low.
These hardy fall perennials are often sold at nurseries with chrysanthemums, serving as a late-season food source for butterflies. They bloom in various colors and grow at different heights, depending on variety. The flowers usually bloom for 2 or 3 weeks in September and October. Plant asters in well-drained, loamy soil in full or partial sun and provide winter protection in USDA hardiness zone 5 and lower. Stake taller New England asters, which can grow more than 3 feet tall.
These larger flowers attract butterflies with their intense colors and wider surface. Varieties come in single or double blooms and present hues from light green to hot pink. They grow up to 4 feet tall. Sow seeds or plant nursery transplants in well-drained soil and in an area that receives at least 6 hours of daily sun. Provide these plants with constant moisture and deadhead spend flowers to prolong blooming.