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Attracting Butterflies: Best Blooms for Butterfly Habitat

Once the weather warms and your flowers emerge, it doesn’t take long before you will begin to see an increase in garden insects as they are drawn to the color and nectar produced. Some of the most favored world rounds are the various species of butterflies, that serve not only as a colorful addition amongst your vegetation but also often serve as a benefit to your garden as they often increase pollination, amongst other things.

Butterflies are attracted to your gardens for many reasons, so if you see a lack thereof, and would like to see more, there are a few steps you can take to get influence their attention. Flowers for butterfly gardens are obviously a major allure, and should always be considered, so we’ve provided a list of the best flowers to plant for a full season of colorful blooming temptation.

Butterfly Benefits

Butterflies are an incredible benefit to your garden. To start, their presence is a key indicator of a healthy ecosystem. Because they are incredibly delicate, it is estimated that many have gone extinct without knowledge of their existence, so supporting them through landscape plantings can help with supporting their incredibly interesting, and complex life cycle.

Not only do butterflies have an intrinsic and aesthetic value to your gardens, they also are highly prized for their educational and scientific values. Estimated to have survived in some form from over 150 million years ago, they are an ancient representation of early pollinators for plant survival and have been of great importance to the food chain as well.

Intrinsic and Aesthetic Value

As mentioned, these are ancient insects. For millions of years, they have represented a component of the rich biodiversity found on the planet. Along with moths, butterflies represent over 250,000 species of insects and are a flagship indicator for conservation issues worldwide.

Their delicate beauty is represented in all hues of the color spectrum, with many almost reflective and iridescent in nature. Their references in literature for thousands of years is well noted, and have represented peace, resurrection, celebration, and overcoming the journey of struggle.

Educational and Scientific Value

The fascinating life cycle of butterflies is one taught early, and often to school age children to help illustrate the biological world within which they live. Around since possibly before flowering plants, butterflies paint a fascinating picture of evolution and survival. Plus, their extensive migration patterns provide unique data for research pertaining to climate changes, navigation, genetics, and biodiversity worldwide.

Ecosystem Value

The presence of butterflies supports a healthy ecosystem. Butterflies are an indicator of other large populations of invertebrates and support a wide range of positive environmental impacts such as pollination and natural pest control. They also are the main food source for insectivorous animals, such as birds and bats- other key species for a healthy environment.

Health and Economic Value

Because of their beauty, many people not only garden specifically for butterfly attraction but become involved with key studies surround population densities within their respective countries. This influences walking and hiking, and more exposure to healthy outdoor activities and fresh air.

Plus, many eco-tours within the countries that support butterfly migration have created an industry surrounding this type of tourism, and provide financial gains to their respective areas. Butterflies support healthy living through their feeding habits to increase crop yields, and some may even have medicinal value.

Butterfly Lifecycle

Butterflies have four distinct stages of life that are highly visible, making them one of the most studied insects of the invertebrate world. All stages are supported by the vegetation in the gardens you grow, from protective features, the food they eat, and the socialization they gain for mating.

Stage One

Well protected undersides of leaves make an ideal place for the first stage of butterfly life to begin: the egg. Depending on the species, eggs may be round, cylindrical, pointed, ribbed, or even transparent. Most eggs are laid in clusters and are only 1 to 3 mm in size– making them difficult to spot. This stage takes approximately 7 to 14 days, but some species may take less than a week, and other may even overwinter for months!

Stage Two

One the larvae emerge, it is called a caterpillar. Many of these are colorful and unique in their own right and are very distinctive as to which butterfly they will eventually transform into. Others may be more plain looking and may be easily mistaken for something more common than the beauty they will become. On average, caterpillars take about 2 weeks to grow and mature, eating through the leaves and vegetation they have been laid upon, and shedding their skin as they grow larger– sometimes up to 100 times their size after emerging from the egg!

Stage Three

Once the caterpillar reaches their second stage of maturity, it will begin to form a pupa. Otherwise called a chrysalis, this protective soft shell is ‘woven’ by the caterpillar to surround its body within which it can transform. From the outside, it may look like it is in a stage of rest, but inside it is utilizing all the energy it has gained through the weeks of eating and growth to metamorphosis into what we call a butterfly. Depending on the species, this stage may last a few weeks or even months.

Stage Four

The fourth, and final stage of maturity occurs once the adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. After a short period of time required for the wings to dry, they will take a flight to mate, lay eggs, and begin their life cycle all over again. Many will feed upon nectar to give them energy, especially if they are migratory, and others will simply mate and die. Most butterflies live from 2 to 6 weeks, although migratory species may live for up to 6 months.

Migration

There are many species of butterflies that migrate, the most famous being the Monarch. Within North America, Monarch butterflies will migrate by the tens of thousands to both California and Mexico to overwinter in the warmer climates before mating and laying eggs again in the spring.

Migratory butterflies will travel only by day up to 2 miles above sea level, and overnight in trees- clustered together for warmth. You can support their migration (that typically begins in late September or October) by planting late-blooming flowers from which they can feed for energy, and leaving them alone if you see them cluster in your trees each night.

What Attracts Butterflies

More than anything, butterflies are attracted by bright blooms. These are often found on the types of plants upon which their larvae can feed, as well as provide nourishment to them as they mate and breed, and gather energy for migration. Vegetation of all sorts can also provide the protection they need for their eggs to mature and hatch; direct sunlight that can damage the eggs, as well as predators, need to be guarded against.

Long lasting flowers, and a mixture of plants that provide blooms all season help draw butterflies, and other beneficial insects, to your gardens. Native species are also important to incorporate, as are insecticide free environments.

Best Flowers for Butterfly Gardens

Although any bright blooms may be a benefit to attracting butterflies, there are some that are considered better than others. The best butterfly garden allows for blooming color of high nectar flowers through the entire season to support all stages of butterfly growth. Native plants should be mixed in when possible, as well as good variety of plants that provide a place for butterflies to land- as they are not hoverers for either food or egg laying.

Below we’ve provided a list of the best flowering species to plant by season. Purple butterfly flowers seem to be a favored color and reliable draw. When faced with a choice of colors, try to always keep purple flowers in bloom through all seasons.

Early Bloomers

Many early spring bloomers that support emerging butterflies are native to your area. Not only do they provide a burst of energy to allow for a thriving butterfly colony, they also provide the food needed for the other insects you most definitely want within your garden- such as bees. Although we may have a tendency to try and eradicate some of the flowering weeds we see early in the growing season, be aware that they do serve a purpose to feed your early pollinators.

Fruit Trees

Fruit trees and bushes are often one of the earliest blooming plants in order to allow for pollination and time for the fruits to develop and mature. These delicate blooms mark the start of spring in many places and also are early energy for many pollinators.

Heather

Heather is a low growing, hardy perennial that may bloom before most any other plant depending on the region they are found within. Usually, they have a purple flower, but some species may look more pink, or even white.

Rockcress

This is a biannual bloomer that has a proliferation of white, pink, or lavender colored flowers that bloom in tiny clusters. They also bloom well into summer, providing color all spring.

Lupines

Tall lupines bloom early in the season in a wide variety of colors. They have a long, interesting history and are helpful in a variety of different areas, plus they are considered hardy and can be found in far Northern regions for early color.

Lavender

Lavender is a favored perennial that may put out blooms multiple times through a growing season. Their fragrant scent is strongest when in bloom, but also provide a heady scent from their foliage.

Grape Hyacinth

These tiny clusters of purple flowers bloom so early, they can be found when snow is still melting upon the ground. These are very important to early pollinators making an appearance as the weather warms.

Wild Mustard

Although considered a native weed in gardens, these delicate stems and yellow flowers are hardy and begin to make their appearance in early spring. They are worth allowing to grow until other plants are blooming in order to provide energy for your pollinators.

Allium

Also called flowering onions, allium provides large purple-hued flowers on long stalks in late spring. While providing nectar to pollinating insects, they also help deter rodents and deer.

Bluestar

With a delicate leaf and busy nature, Bluestar is called such due to its star-shaped clusters of blue flowers that open in the spring.

Summer Season Bloomers

What is defined as a summer bloomer, or long-lasting seasonal bloomer, is mostly controlled by climate. In long growing seasons some of these blooms may be blooming by early summer (or even late spring in southern climates) and last well into fall, or have multiple bloom flushes through the season. Be sure to know which zone you live within in order to best determine which plants are considered summer and fall blooms, especially when dealing with native species.

Phlox

Phlox is a perennial that can grow up to 4 feet tall on long stems that hold lasting clusters of vibrant flowers. Place these amongst your existing gardens for pops of color through the summer.

Butterfly Bush

With long-lasting blooms through the summer and a possible flush of secondary blooms in fall, butterfly bushes are hardy and long-lasting. Popular due to their color and attractiveness to pollinators, they provide excellent cover for all stages of butterfly life and are one of the most important plants for butterflies to thrive.

Blazing Star Flowers

Tall, 1 to 3-foot spikes of purple flowers define these ‘poker’ shaped plants that bloom all summer and well into fall. These are hardy plants that provide standing interest through the winter as well.

Milkweed

Milkweed, although not always the most aesthetic native plant, is hardy in almost all conditions and are the single most important plant for Monarch butterflies. Their delicate pink flowers are a draw for many pollinating insects, but their leaves play host only to caterpillars and their chrysalis.

Lantana

These are bright showy clusters of blooms that provide interest in containers, garden beds, and borders all summer. Plus, they are heat resistant.

Butterfly Weed

Considered a type of milkweed, Butterfly Weed draws in butterflies and also provides the correct feed for growing Monarch caterpillar growth. Plus, their bright blooms are more popular for gardens capes than native milkweeds.

Perennial Hibiscus

Known as Rose of Sharon, perennial hibiscus species grow tall and wide and need regular shaping care. Their large, plate faced flowers are similar to their tropical cousins but are considered hardy and heat tolerant.

Coreopsis

Traditionally a bright yellow color, these have been hybridized to include a variety of other hues and can begin to bloom early spring in warmer climates and continue well into mid-summer.

Agapanthus

Known as Lily of the Nile, many of these species are evergreen as well, and provide year-round color and textural interest. The long blooming, white and purple flowers add height and interest and are a reliable draw too many pollinators.

Salvia

The long-stalked, bright flowers of Salvia draws pollinators, and are considered a reliable draw for all kinds of butterflies. It may also be called meadow sage and is often found as creamy white, pink, and shades of purple and blue.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers of all types attract beneficial insects add showy interest to your gardens. Add a tall backdrop to your garden beds, and smaller, brush-like versions to your borders.

Fennel

Although it is known more for the texture it lends to your gardens over its flowers, the vegetation is a favored food of swallowtail caterpillars. Plus, you can use it in your own kitchen.

Late Bloomers

Late blooming butterfly garden flowers may also bloom through part of the summer in longer growing seasons, and also provide a second flush of bloom through the fall. These are hardy plants that provide the energy needed by migrating butterflies, as well as excellent places for the overwintering of eggs in certain species. Most of these will provide flowers until the first frost.

Black Eyed Susan

Late summer through fall should see these large, daisy-shaped flowers in bloom to provide a perfect place to land, rest, and feed. Their dense leaves also allow for protection.

Aster

Native blooming, hardy, and even drought resistant, Aster provides long blooms through the late summer and fall. These are excellent sources of energy for migrant butterflies or late emergers.

Caryopteris

Also known as spirea, caryopteris is a bluish purple flower that grows on a stem not unlike lavender. Blooms are at their thickest in late summer and fall and provide a low, garden border interest.

Coneflowers

Heat and drought tolerant, these large summer and fall blooms provide a place to rest and recharge for butterflies. With a variety of colors hybridized and available, stick with the more pink and purple hues for butterfly attraction.

Crape Myrtles

Depending on the species and your climate, crape myrtle will provide bright bunches of blooms that last well into the fall season. If you are not a fan of the larger bushy species, look for more compact ones to add to your gardens.

Hydrangea

The large cone-shaped flowers of Hydrangea may begin to bloom in the summer but will last well into the fall. Lighter colored species, such as the greenish-white of Limelight, or pinkish-white of Strawberry Sunset are favorites of butterflies.

Sedum

Large, bush-like sedums, rather than the common ground covers, are late bloomers and provide strong, upright stalks of pink and purple hues that draw beneficial insects of all sorts.

Goldenrod

This native plant includes almost 200 different species and can be found through the most meadow and grassy plain areas throughout North America, South America, and Eurasia. Their upright stalks and bright yellow clusters of flowers are a favorite of all butterfly species.

Passionflower

Although these vines can grow rather large and become invasive in certain climates, their large, showy blooms that begin to open in late summer will last well into the first frost. Not only do they smell amazing, but provide protection and energy for migrating butterflies.

Conclusion

Supporting butterflies is as easy as providing the right type of vegetation within your gardens. Chances are, if you already garden, you have an excellent foundation to provide a place for butterflies to stop and linger. Consistent seasonal blooms, and supportive vegetation for food and protection are all things to consider when you are planning which flowers to choose for your butterfly gardens.

Hopefully, this article has provided some insight and recognition of what you do have, and what you might need, to provide a better butterfly habitat. If you have any suggestions, comments, or questions, please leave them below, and, as always, please share!

About The Author

Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod cuts a tragic figure in the High School English classroom teaching literature by day, and moonlighting as a writer and graphic artist by night. Published in a variety of travel magazines, and now a blog, Danielle enjoys coming up with home and garden projects to complete with her two young boys. A native of Michigan, she resides in Southeastern New Mexico with her variety of horses, poultry, and variable mix of rescue dogs (there’s a cat or two in there as well). In her free time she enjoys travel, art, photography, and a good book!

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