19 Plants that Attract Butterflies - with photo of colorful orange, black and white butterfly on orange and yellow lantana flowers

Attract & Support Butterflies with These Beautiful Plants

Creating a Butterfly Habitat

Butterflies can be drawn to your garden no matter the size and location. To be the most successful in attracting butterflies to your garden, we recommend that you incorporate four things into your garden landscape:

  • 1. Water - An occasional water source for puddling.
  • 2. Cover - A large shrub or tree to both provide shade from the heat and as an evening resting area
  • 3. Resting ButterflyNectar plants - Nectars help butterflies sustain their adult lives. Different plants offer nectar seasonally; some in the spring and others in the summer and fall. To create the optimum butterfly habitat, we recommend incorporating clusters of butterfly-friendly plants that bloom throughout the butterfly season.
  • 4. Host plants (aka larval plants) - Host plants can be either annuals or perennials and are best defined as plants where butterflies lay their eggs. Once hatched, the tiny caterpillar need leaves and flowers to eat. The right plants will quickly grow new leaves.

Host Plants

Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) growing in the desert among rocks and other native plants.

1. Brittlebush/Brittlebrush (Encelia farinosa) – Fragrant, yellow, daisy-like flowers bloom over woolly evergreen foliage. This perennial desert shrub enjoys full sun and well-drained soil, and flowers late winter and early spring. Great as an accent or foundation plant or in desert flower gardens.

Lime tree with limes and blossoms

2. Citrus – There are many different types of citrus, including citron, lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit. The peak season for these evergreen trees to bud and produce fruit is November through January, though some varieties produce year-round. Interesting fact: once citrus is picked it does not continue to ripen. However, it can remain on the tree without becoming overripe.

fresh dill growing in garden

3. Dill (Anethum graveolens) – This herb is delicious in receipies for pickles, dips or sprinkled on vegetables. Enjoys full sun and needs regular watering—weekly, or more often in extreme heat. Yellow flowers bloom in summer. Great as a border or in containers.

Pink heartleaf iceplant in bloom.

4. Heartleaf Iceplant (Aptenia Cordifolia), aka Baby Sun Rose – Showy flowers bloom purplish-red from spring to fall and enjoy full sun and dry to medium, well-drained sandy loams. Low maintenance and excellent as a bedding plant, ground cover, in containers, hanging baskets or in rock gardens.

Pink and red hollyhock blooms.

5. Mallows (Malvaceae) – Easy to grow herbaceous shrubs that enjoy full sun and flower summer to frost. Needs regular watering—weekly, or more often in extreme heat. Great in borders, hedges or in the back of perennial garden beds.

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6. Mexican False Yucca (Hesperaloe Funifera) – This heat and sun-loving perennial produces white to yellow blooms in the spring. Is drought tolerant and enjoys full sun to partial sun. Water very sparingly. Excellent as an accent in beds, borders and in Mediterranean gardens.

A green butterfly on Antelope Milkweed.

7. Milkweed Varieties (Aslcepias) – Showy, colorful flowers that are rich in nectar enjoy partial to full sun and bloom in summer. Water weekly, or more often in extreme heat, until established. Wonderful in borders, containers, urban gardens and wildlife gardens.

Karley Rose Fountain Grass growing outside.

8. Ornamental Grasses – There is a wide variety of ornamental grasses that attract butterflies. The one shown is Fountain Grass Karley Rose. It is highly decorative with rose-purple plumes that form mid-summer. Enjoys full sun to half sun/half shade. Is deer resistant, offers winter interest and is excellent in containers.

Passion Flowers

9. Passion Vine (Passiflora) – Passion vines flowers come in a variety of colors and offer long-lasting fragrant blooms with an exotic shape. These fast-growing climbers enjoy full sun and bloom late summer and fall. Water regularly, when the top 3 inches of the soil is dry. Excellent in containers, as an espalier, in mass plantings, and as a privacy screen.

Butterfly a top pink coral vine blooms.

10. Queen's Wreath (Antigonon leptopus) – This rapid climber is adorned by sprays of bright pink flowers, enjoys partial to full sun, and thrives on hot walls. Highly drought tolerant; once established, needs only occassional watering. Blooms late summer through fall. Excellent in containers, as an espalier, in mass plantings, as a privacy screen, in a Rock Garden, Urban Garden or Wildlife Garden.

Common rue growing in the garden.

11. Rue (Ruta graveolens) –This low-maintenance, deer and drought tolerant perennial enjoys full sun, little water and well-drained soil. Showy, dull yellow blooms adorn its aromatic fern-like leaves June to July. Great in borders, rock gardens and herb gardens.

A closeup of the yellow blooms of a Senna artemisioides (or feathery cassia).

12. Senna – Large, golden-yellow blooms on this evergreen tree enjoy full sun and flower early fall through early winter. Needs only occassional watering, once established.

Nectar Plants

Pink Baja Fairy Duster Bloom in Desert Landscape with a variety of other plants.

13. Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) – Offers long-lasting, bright red attractive powder-puff shaped blooms nearly all year long. Peak bloom season occurs in late spring, this accent shrub enjoys full sun and occassional watering once established; with weekly watering recommended for the summer. Excellent in borders and containers.

A blooming lilac chaste tree.

14. Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus) – This beautiful deciduous garden or patio tree blooms in summer and enjoys full sun. With an attractive multi-trunk tree and clusters of frangrant lilac blooms and aromatic gray-green foliage. Water weekly, or more often in extreme heat, until established. Excellent as a small accent tree or trained in a shrub border.

Fern-Leaf Lavender growing in the garden.

15. Fern-Leaf Lavender (Lavandula canariensis) – This quick-growing lavender plant boasts lacy, bright emerald-green ferny and frond-like foliage. It blooms year-round and enjoys full sun and well-drained soil. Deer resistant and drount tolerant once established. Excellent in containers.

Swallow Tail Butterfly with Pink and Yellow Lantana Flowers

16. Lantana (Lantana camara) – Pops of vibrant color that enjoy full sun and thrives in heat and humidity. Blooms spring through summer. Needs only occassional watering once established; more in extreme heat or containers. Fantastic in borders, containers, hanging baskets and mass plantings.


17. Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) – There are numerous sunflower varieties. In general, sunflowers are low maintanence and bloom in summer. Size and height varies. They produce showy yellow blooms and are generally deer and drought tolerant, and enjoy full sun and well-drained soil. Excellent as accents, in borders or mass plantings.

Pink South American Mock Vervain flowers.

18. Verbena (Verbenaceae) – There are a number of varieties of Verbenaceae that attract butterflies, such as Verbena bonariensis and Verbena rigida. This also includes South American Mock Vervain (Glandularia pulchella). This plant is known for or its abundance of nectar-rich flowers and attracting butterflies with its brightly colored blooms.

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19. Wooly Butterflybush (Buddleja marrubiifolia) – This perennial shrub has orange blooms with velvety, ash-gray, silver to white foliage. Enjoys full-sun to part shade, dry soil and low amounts of water; is drought-tolerant and performs well in hight heat. Blooms summer through fall. A wonderful addition to a desert garden.

To learn more ways to attract butterflies to your garden landscape, join us for one of our classes or workshops, or speak with one of SummerWinds Nursery's Trusted Garden Advisors at a store near you.

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