Butterfly Garden Planting Guide
Need help finding something?

Butterfly Garden Planting Guide

Thanks to our wonderful Horticulturalists, who made a butterfly garden planting guide. For a PDF version, click here.

Butterfly Garden Planting Guide

Invite them over to your own backyard.

Plant your own butterfly garden at home! Follow these simple suggestions to attract these beautiful and colorful insects to your own yard.   PICK a sunny spot. Butterflies need sun to keep their bodies warm enough to fly. Most of their favorite flowers like lots of sun, too.   CHOOSE bright colors. Butterflies are more likely to notice and visit brightly colored flowers, rather than subtler shades.   PLANT in groups. Masses of the same flower are easier for butterflies to find than single flowers.    

SELECT plants that bloom at different times. Butterflies need food spring through frost, so your garden should always have something in bloom. Try a mix of annuals (which bloom spring to frost, but must be replanted each year) and perennials (which have shorter bloom times, but once planted will return year after year).   INCLUDE both nectar plants, whose flowers provide nectar, the main food of adult butterflies, and host plants, which serve as home and food to the caterpillars that grow up to become butterflies.   PROTECT your butterflies, birds, and other wildlife by avoiding pesticides in your butterfly garden. Chemicals that kill insects will harm caterpillars.  

Serve them what they like, and they’ll come for a visit. Make them comfortable, and they’ll stay forever.          

Here’s what we plant in the zoo’s garden to attract butterflies and make them feel at home:


Bloom spring through frost. Annuals do not survive over the winter and are planted each year. 

  • Ageratum                         Floss Flower
  • Asclepias curassavica     Tropical Milkweed
  • Cosmos                           Cosmos
  • Cuphea hyssopifolia        Mexican Heather
  • Cuphea lanceolata           Cigar Plant ’Starfire’
  • Gomphrena                    Globe Amaranth
  • Lantana camara             Lantana
  • Helianthus annuus           Sunflower
  • Melampodium                 Melampodium
  • Nicotiana                       Flowering Tobacco
  • Pentas lanceolata         Pentas
  • Rudbeckia hirta            Black-eyed Susan
  • Salvia coccinea            Scarlet Sage
  • Stachytarpheta mutabilis  Porterweed
  • Tithonia ‘Fiesta del Sol’   Dwarf Mexican Sunflower
  • Tithonia ‘Torch’             Mexican Sunflower
  • Verbena                         Annual Verbena
  • Zinnia angustifolia          Star Zinnia
  • Zinnia elegans                Zinnia    

Perennial Vines

Grow quickly to give height and color to the garden. Hardy root system survives through the winter.  

  • Aristolochia macrophylla  Dutchman’s Pipe
  • Passiflora hybrid                        Passionflower ‘Blue Bouquet’
  • Passiflora hybrid                        Passionflower ‘Blue Velvet’
  • Passiflora hybrid                        Passionflower ‘Clear Sky’
  • Passiflora hybrid                        Passionflower ‘Colvillii Big’
  • Passiflora hybrid                        Passionflower ‘Fata Confetto’
  • Passiflora hybrid                        Passionflower ‘Indigo Dream’
  • Passiflora hybrid                        Passionflower ‘Inspiration’
  • Passiflora hybrid                        Passionflower ‘Lavender Lady
  • Passiflora hybrid                        Passionflower ‘Purple Haze’
  • Passiflora hybrid                        Passionflower ‘Waterloo Blue’
  • Passiflora hybrid                        Passionflower ‘Fata Confetto’    


Are hardy through the winter and return year after year. Each one may bloom for a few weeks or a few months, depending on species and variety.

  • Achillea                                     Yarrow
  • Agastache                                  Hummingbird Mint
  • Asclepias incarnata                     Swamp Milkweed
  • Asclepias tuberosa                       Butterfly Weed
  • Aster                                         Hardy Aster
  • Coreopsis verticillata                   Threadleaf Coreopsis
  • Echinacea purpurea                     Purple Coneflower
  • Eupatorium fistulosum                 Joe Pye Weed
  • Gaillardia                                                   Blanket Flower
  • Hamelia patens                                         Firebush
  • Hemerocallis                                              Daylily
  • Kniphofia                                                    Red Hot Poker
  • Lantana ‘Pink Caprice’                          Perennial Lantana
  • Leucanthemum x superbum                               Shasta Daisy
  •  Liatris spicata                            Blazing Star
  • Malvaviscus                                Turk’s Cap
  • Monarda                                    Bee Balm
  • Phlox paniculata                         Garden Phlox
  • Rudbeckia fulgida                        Black-eyed Susan
  •  Rudbeckia laciniata                     Cutleaf Coneflower
  • Ruellia brittoniana                      Mexican Petunia
  • Ruellia elegans ‘Rajun Cajun’       Elegant Ruellia
  • Salvia elegans                             Pineapple Sage
  • Salvia greggii                             Autumn Sage
  • Salvia leucantha                          Mexican Bush Sage
  • Salvia madrensis ‘Red Neck Girl’  Forsythia Sage
  • Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’       Hot Lips Sage
  •  Salvia uliginosa                          Bog Sage
  •  Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’                   Autumn Joy Stonecrop
  •  Verbena bonariensis                    Brazilian Verbena
  • Verbena canadensis ‘Homestead Purple’         Homestead Purple Verbena    

Shrubs and Trees

Give permanent height and structure to the garden. Many have blooms that provide nectar. Many shrubs and trees are “host plants” for butterflies: butterfly caterpillars use the leaves as a food source.
* Those marked with an asterisk are nectar plants when in bloom.
** Those marked with a double asterisk are host plants for caterpillars.
* ** Those marked with a triple asterisk are both nectar plants and host plants. 

  • Abelia grandiflora                       Abelia *
  • Asimina triloba                           Pawpaw **
  • Buddleia ‘Honeycomb’                Butterfly Bush *
  • Callicarpa                                 American Beautyberry*
  • Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’   Forest Pansy Redbud * **
  • Cornus florida                            Dogwood * **
  •  Itea virginica                              Virginia Sweetspire*
  •  Lindera benzoin                          Spicebush **
  • Magnolia virginiana                    Sweetbay Magnolia **
  • Ulmus americanus                     American Elm **
  • Viburnum dentatum ‘Chicago Luster’           Arrow-wood Viburnum *
  • Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum            Doublefile Viburnum *
  • Viburnum rhytidophyllum             Leatherleaf Viburnum *
  •  Vitex agnus-castus                       Chaste Tree *
  •  Vitex agnus-castus ‘Shoal Creek’   Chaste Tree *      

Don’t forget the Host Plants!

When planning your own garden, it’s easy to get caught up in the colorful blooms of the nectar plants, but don’t forget to include HOST PLANTS in your garden too! Female butterflies will be drawn to them (and therefore, spend more time in your yard), and will lay their eggs on the leaves. Then you get the great fun of watching the amazing caterpillars munch away, get bigger and bigger, each form a chrysalis, and then emerge as adult butterflies! Try some of the following host plants in your garden

  • American Elm                 host plant for Question Mark
  • Dill                               host plant for Black Swallowtail
  • Dutchman’s Pipe             host plant for Pipevine Swallowtail
  • Fennel                           host plant for Black Swallowtail
  • Milkweed                       host plant for Monarch and Queen
  •  Parsley                          host plant for Black Swallowtail
  • Passionflower                  host plant for Gulf Fritillary and Variegated Fritillary
  • Pawpaw                         host plant for Zebra Swallowtail
  • Spicebush                      host plant for Spicebush Swallowtail
  • Sweetbay Magnolia          host plant for Tiger Swallowtail
  • Tulip Poplar                   host plant for Tiger Swallowtail, Red-Spotted Purple, and Viceroy 
For a PDF version, click here.
Posted by Zoo Info at 12:07 PM