A monarch butterfly visits a coneflower (Echinacea sp.)

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 Plants Plants for Nectar Sources
Trees Shrubs
·          Salix caroliniana (willow) ·          Symphyotrichum spp., Eurybia spp., etc. (aster species)
·          Asimina triloba (pawpaw) ·          Coreopsis verticillata (whorled tickseed)
·          Betula nigra (river birch) ·          Echinacea spp. (coneflower)
·          Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam) ·          Eupatorium fistulosum (Joe Pye weed)
·          Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud) ·          Gaillardia x grandiflora (blanket flower)
·          Cornus florida (dogwood) ·          Gaura lindheimeri (Lindheimer’s beeblossom)
·          Juniperus virginiana (Eastern red cedar) ·          Heliopsis helianthoides (smooth oxeye)
·          Ptelea trifoliata (common hop-tree) ·          Hibiscus moscheutos (rose-mallow)
·          Sassafras albidum (sassafras) ·          Nepeta x faassenii (giant catmint)
·          Quercus velutina (black oak) ·          Oenothera spp. (evening primrose)
Shrubs ·          Phlox carolina (thickleaf phlox)
·          Lindera benzoin (spicebush) ·          Phlox paniculata (fall phlox)
·          Rhus spp. (sumac) ·          Parthenium integrifolium (American feverfew)
·          Viburnum dentatum ·          Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-eyed Susan)
Herbaceous Perennials ·          Sedum spp.
·          Antennaria plantaginifolia (pussy toes)  
·          Symphyotrichum spp., Eurybia spp., etc. (aster species)  
·          Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed)  
·          Chelone glabra, C. lyonii (turtlehead)  
·          Penstemon digitalis (talus slope penstemon)  
·          Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)  


Food Fit for a Butterfly
Different butterfly life stages require different plants. Here are two native Mid-Atlantic herbaceous perennials from our National Garden - one serves as a caterpillar host plant and the other as a nectar source for adult butterflies.

Asclepias incarnata spp. pulchra serves as a host plant for caterpillars

Phlox paniculata (fall phlox) is a nectar source for adult butterflies