12 Plants That Attract Butterflies to Your Yard

Turn your backyard into your very own pollinator haven.

butterfly on pink flower in garden

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While butterflies are some of the prettiest insects you'll find in your garden, they aren't just visiting your blooms for show. These delicate fliers are on the hunt for food, rest, shelter, or sun—and for a host plant that can help.

"A host plant ensures that the butterfly and its caterpillar have ample amount of food to survive and thrive," says says Todd MacLean, gardener and owner of Todd MacLean Outdoors in Palm Beach, Fla. "To find these plants, butterflies rely on their acute sense of smell, using receptors in their antennae, feet, and tongues that detect the right host plant in a garden." In other words, when a butterfly smells the plant they love, they fly to it—it's that simple!

So which plants should you have in your garden if you want it to be a haven for butterflies? Choose plants that are native to your region, says Miri Talabac, horticulturist with University of Maryland Extension. "Not only is this because the plant has a better chance of supporting other insects or animals besides just the butterflies it attracts, but also because if the plant seeds-around into natural areas, it's not going to detriment the local ecosystem," says Talabac.

In general, members of the aster, mint, rose, milkweed, and vervain families are pollinator favorites, says Talabac, because they offer flower heads where butterflies can sit, and tiny flowers close together for maximum nectar access. Start with these 12 expert recommendations to bring more butterflies to your backyard.


marigold flowers in garden

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Perhaps you've heard of the Marigold Butterfly—a type of butterfly that loves to hang around (you guessed it!) marigold flowers. "Marigolds are best when planted in masses to attract butterflies like the Marigold Butterfly," MacLean says. If you want your marigolds to live their longest, he recommends deadheading the blooms to promote new growth and blooms.

Zone: 2 to 11
Size: 4 to 48 inches tall x 6 to 24 inches wide
Growing conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

Bottlebrush Buckeye

butterfly on bottlebrush buckeye

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This beautiful green-and-white shrub attracts butterflies by the dozen in midsummer when it is in full bloom, according to Janet Mavec, owner of Birdhaven Farm in New Jersey. "It is one of the best summer-flowering shrubs for shade."

Zone: 4 to 9
Size: 8 to 12 feet wide x 8 to 12 feet tall
Growing conditions: Full or partial shade; moist, well-drained soil


purple echinacea flower with butterfly

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Also known as the coneflower, this pinkish-purple bloom makes a beautiful addition to any garden. Both butterflies and bees love its sweet nectar and color, notes MacLean. "Be sure to leave some spent blooms on the plants in fall because their seeds provide winter food for finches and other birds," he adds.

Zone: 3 to 9
Size: 24 to 60 inches tall x 12 to 24 inches wide
Growing conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil


lantana flowers

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Butterflies love the color and sweet nectar smell of this perennial flowering plant. "Lantana does best in well-draining, slightly acidic soil and can tolerate full sun," MacLean says. "It can be grown in borders, mixed beds, and containers."

Zone: 4 to 9
Size: 24 to 36 inches tall x 12 to 24 inches wide
Growing conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil


colorful zinnia flowers


This multi-colored flower, which is most often seen in shades of cream, red, and purple, attracts butterflies thanks to its bright color and alluring smell. However, Mavec warns that butterflies do not like double zinnias; this variety makes it too hard for them to get the nectar—it becomes too much work. "It is best not to crowd zinnias, as they develop powdery mildew," she adds.

Zone: 3 to 10
Size: 12 to 48 inches tall x 6 to 18 inches wide
Growing conditions: Full sun; moist soil

Black-Eyed Susans

black-eyed susan flowers

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Butterflies flock to this North American flowering plant—specifically to their dark center, which contains about 200-300 small tubular-shaped flowers. For these critters, this acts as a shallow cup of nectar, MacLean says. "They prefer full sun, well-drained and fertile soil, and are best used as a backdrop to any pollinator garden, as they can get up to 3 feet tall."

Zone: 4 to 9
Size: 24 to 36 inches tall x 12 to 24 inches wide
Growing conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil


purple salvia flowers


Salvia is a member of the sage family (the herb you've probably consumed in a myriad of culinary dishes). As a plant, salvia has many small brightly colored flowers that bloom in the summer and fall. "Both butterflies and hummingbirds adore the nectar of these small flowers," MacLean says.

Zone: 5 to 10
Size: 18 to 60 inches tall x 12 to 48 inches wide
Growing conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

Butterfly Weed

butterfly weed flowers

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While its cousin, common milkweed, is likely to spread through as much of your garden as it can, the "more restrained" butterfly weed will attract plenty of its namesake pollinators without the aggressive takeover. "Butterfly weed is vibrant orange or yellow-orange (or more rarely reddish-orange)," says Talabac. "They bloom around midsummer, and some species have appealing fragrances. Monarch and Queen butterflies will use many species of milkweed as host plants for their caterpillars."

Zone: 3 to 9
Size: 24 to 48 inches tall x 12 to 24 inches wide
Growing condition: Full sun; excellent drainage

Anise Hyssop

anise hyssop with monarch butterfly

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Anise Hyssop, a member of the mint family, produces tall cones of small purple flowers, and exudes a minty scent from its crushed leaves. The nectar draws butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. "This plant has a long bloom period—at least a couple months in summer, possibly longer if deadheaded," says Talabac.

Zone: 4 to 8
Size: 36 to 48 inches x 12 to 36 inches wide
Growing conditions: Full to part sun; soil of average drainage


summersweet shrub in garden

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Summersweet, a deciduous shrub, gives off a sweet scent from its off-white or light pink blooms in the later part of the summer, drawing pollinators after other plants have stopped flowering. "It's later to leaf-out in spring than most flowering shrubs, so don't be alarmed if branches are still bare when other garden plants start regrowing," says Talabac.

Zone: 3 to 9
Size: up to 8 feet tall x 6 feet wide
Growing conditions: Full sun to full shade; moist soil

Mountain Mint

mountain mint

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Another member of the mint family that draws pollinators is mountain mint, a low-maintenance herbaceous perennial with pink-speckled blooms that open in midsummer. "The crushed foliage has a minty aroma, different from the mint types grown as common herbs, but still minty overall," says Talabac. "It's popular with a lot of other pollinators, like native bees, solitary wasps, and honeybees, teeming with activity when a clump is in peak bloom."

Zone: 5 to 8
Size: 24 to 36 inches tall x 18 to 24 inches wide  
Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade; well-drained, drier soil

Rattlesnake Master

rattlesnake master


Balls of tiny flowers sit atop the tall spikes of the perennial rattlesnake master, a drought-tolerant plant with pale green summer blooms. Though it looks like a thistle, this plant is a member of the carrot family—crush the leaves to catch the familiar scent.

Zone: 3 to 9
Size: 24 to 60 inches
Growing conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

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