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The Best Plants for Butterfly Gardens

By Jill Harness ; Updated September 21, 2017

When growing butterfly gardens, it is important to select flowers that will attract butterflies for of one of their two primary needs--mating and eating. For this reason, plants used in butterfly gardens are usually referred to as host plants, where butterflies can lay their eggs, and nectar plants, where the adult butterflies can feed. Remember to avoid pesticides when growing butterfly gardens.

Butterfly Bush

Buddleja, more commonly called butterfly bush, is a brightly colored bush with sweet smelling nectar that butterflies find very appealing. There are around 100 species of butterfly bushes and they come in a variety of colors, sizes and flower-shapes.

Purple Coneflower

This flower is actually a type of Echinacea plant. They survive well in warm, prairie-like climates and have a somewhat hay-like smell.


Lavender is a very strong-smelling plant and is often used in perfumes. It's strong smell makes it enticing to butterflies, who can smell it from far away and will go out of their way to enjoy its perfume-scented nectar.


Lilac trees are small shrubs with intense floral scents. The flowers generally come in purple, but will occasionally be white, pink or yellow. These plants can actually serve as both a host plant or a nectar plant depending on the age of the butterfly in question. Their scent attracts the insects, who enjoy the taste of the nectar in its flowers, while caterpillars can enjoy its hearty leaves.

Passion Vine

Passion vines are beautiful, flowering vines that can grow into passion fruits--but not all species develop the fruits. Like lilacs, passion vines can attract butterflies or provide a place for them to lay their eggs. In general, the leaves are preferred by long-winged butterflies.


There are over 140 species of milkweeds and they come in all colors, but when it comes to butterflies, they mostly only attract monarchs. If you do not live in an area with monarch butterflies, milkweeds won’t help your butterfly garden.