6 Native Plants for a Butterfly Garden


When we head into the high summer garden, we love catching a glimpse of colorful butterflies fluttering from plant to plant. Butterflies, bees, and other pollinator species are crucial to supporting healthy ecosystems and helping agricultural crops thrive, so planting butterfly-friendly plants can have far-reaching benefits for beautiful, thriving gardens. With that in mind, we rounded up six of our favorite native North American plants for a butterfly garden; read on to learn more about each one. 

1. Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum): Also known as "gravel root" and "trumpet weed," this towering perennial is native to eastern and central North America. A member of the sunflower family, Joe-Pye Weed grows in large clumps of stems that can reach more than seven feet tall. In mid-to-late summer, its loose, sweetly-scented clusters of purple blooms attract Swallowtails, Monarchs, and many other butterfly species to the garden. 

2. Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata): Blooming from July to September, blue vervain attracts butterflies to the garden with candelabra-shaped flower spikes in vivid violet. This hardy perennial is a native species across North America, preferring sunny conditions and swampy soil. Along with butterflies, it also attracts a variety of native bees, beneficial wasps, and other pollinators.  

3. Rattlesnake-Master (Eryngium yuccifolium): Native to North America's tallgrass prairies, this perennial member of the parsley family takes its name from Native American folk medicine, in which its roots were used as an antidote for rattlesnake venom. Its unusual flower clusters emerge from June to September atop upright stems with spiny leaves. A host plant for Swallowtail butterfly larvae, it also serves as a nectar source for a variety of pollinators. 

4. Lanceleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata): Another member of the sunflower family, this cheerfully-colored perennial blooms in early summer with large, yellow flowers. Lanceleaf coreopsis is self-seeding and easy to cultivate, making it a popular choice for supporting pollinator populations in urban areas. Its nectar is a food source for butterflies and honey bees, while some songbirds feed on its seeds in late summer. 

5. Bee Balm (Monarda): A native plant across North America, this member of the mint family thrives in full sun and well-drained soil, producing showy blooms from July through September. Along with butterflies, bee balm attracts hummingbirds, pollinating insects, and insects that control garden pests. Several Monarda varieties are crucial for butterfly and moth populations, serving as the sole source of food for Coleophora moths.

6. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa): This perennial species of milkweed is native to eastern North America, where it prefers full sun and dry, sandy soil. As suggested by its name, Asclepias tuberosa attracts butterflies with its vivid, orange color and abundant nectar. Butterfly weed is a larval food for queen and Monarch butterflies; it also draws hummingbirds, bees, and other insects to the garden. 

Photography credits: 1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region; 2. Judy Gallagher; 3. Joshua Mayer; 4. Sasha StrangeFlower; 5. C Watts; 6. John Flannery

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