Of the many creatures at home in the garden, few can match the grace and beauty of butterflies. They are important pollinators and a delight to see in any garden.

A garden that includes plants for the entire life cycle will attract a variety of native butterflies. Butterfly larvae need host plants for food and as a place to pupate, while adult butterflies require nectar sources for food and plants for egg-laying.

Tips for Planting a Butterfly Garden

  • Place your garden in a sunny place and provide rocks for butterflies to bask in the sun. Butterflies are sun-lovers and cannot fly until the sun’s warmth heats their bodies.
  • Group plants together to create a mass of color.
  • Plant shrubs and trees nearby to offer a hiding place from predators and to shelter butterflies from the wind.
  • Provide moisture. Butterflies extract water and minerals from damp soil.
  • Avoid pesticides. They kill butterflies and their caterpillars.

 To attract a diversity of butterflies and other pollinators in your garden, select a variety of plants with different floral colors, shapes, sizes and bloom times. The following plants are native to the Mid-Atlantic region and are listed based on their benefit for the different butterfly stages.

Caterpillar Host PlantsPlants for Nectar Source


  • Salix caroliniana (willow)
  • Asimina triloba (pawpaw)
  • Betula nigra (river birch)
  • Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam)
  • Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud)
  • Cornus florida (dogwood)
  • Juniperus virginiana (Eastern red cedar)
  • Ptelea trifoliata (common hop-tree)
  • Sassafras albidum (sassafras)
  • Quercus velutina (oak trees)



  • Lindera benzoin (spicebush)
  • Rhus spp. (sumac)
  • Viburnum dentatum


Herbaceous Perennials

  • Antennaria plantginfolia (pussy toes)
  • Symphyotrichum spp., Eurybai spp., etc. (aster species)
  • Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweek)
  • Chelone glabra, C. lyonii (turtlehead)
  • Penstemon digitalis (talus slope penstemon)



  • Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)


  • Symphyotrichum spp., Eurybai spp., etc. (aster species)
  • Coreopsis verticillata (whorled tickseed)
  • Echinacea spp. (coneflower)
  • Eupatorium fistulosum (Joe Pye weed)
  • Gaillardia x grandiflora (blanket flower)
  • Gaura lindherimeri (Lindheimer’s beeblossom)
  • Heliopsis helianthoides (smooth oxeye)
  • Hibiscus x moscheutos (rose-mallow)
  • Nepeta x faassenii (giant catmint)
  • Oenothera spp. (evening primrose)
  • Phlox carolina (thickleaf phlox)
  • Phlox paniculata (fall phlox)
  • Parthenium integrifolium (American feverfew)
  • Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-eyed Susan)
  • Sedum spp.