Where are your favorite places to hang out? Odds are, you flock to places with scenery you find attractive and where the food and drinks are scrumptious. Butterflies are no different. These fascinating, ephemeral, winged creatures enjoy gardens that offer a variety of brightly colored flowers, tasty nectar or plants that protect and feed their larval young.
Plant Your Garden With Butterflies in Mind
Visual beauty is typically the first thing on a homeowners mind when planning spring and summer gardens. Before you go too far planning a perfectly synchronized bloom palette, take a little time to learn about the plants and flowers that attract butterflies. You’ll still be able to paint your outdoor canvas with a rainbow of colors, while simultaneously providing pollinators with choice edibles.
Watching butterflies is hypnotic, and planting the flowers and shrubs they prefer provides hours of enjoyment for you, family and friends. In addition to butterflies, you’ll also enjoy the presence of other pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds. I recommend purchasing a copy of Stokes Butterfly Book : The Complete Guide to Butterfly Gardening, Identification, and Behavior, which is a wonderful companion to keep by your side for further information on attracting and identifying common North American garden butterflies.
Now, on with a list of plants you should add to your landscape to delight in butterfly revelry. All of the following are California natives, which means they are the exact plants resident butterfly species have evolved with and adapted to. Plus, the wide majority of them are drought tolerant – another major bonus.
Indian Mallow and Flowering Maple (Abutilon palmeri). This isn’t a stunning plant, but it is hardy and subtly sweet. It’s used to hot, dry rocky slopes, but still manages to look green year-round and produce gorgeous bright yellow to yellow-orange flowers all spring and early-summer long.
California Buckeye (Aesculus californica). Flowering trees are butterfly favorites as well, and the California buckeye is certainly one of their preferred species. Especially attractive to the larvae of the Echo Blue Butterfly, buckeyes prefer partial shade and sun and will grow to about 15-feet high.
Beautiful Rockcress (Arabis pulchra var. gracile). The name says it all. It is, indeed, a beautiful perennial plant with stunning purple blooms. It’s a favorite to a wide variety of native butterfly species. It loves the sun and does quite well in rock gardens.
Sunset Manzanita (Arctostaphylos hybrid). This type of manzanita is a shrub, rather than tree, and will top out at 3-feet tall and 6-feet wide. It’s a great drought tolerant groundcover for front and backyards, and looks beautiful against the backdrop of a redwood fence. Sunset Manzanita is also a favorite hangout for more than a dozen butterfly species, including Monarchs, Mourning Cloaks, Red Admirals and California Tortoiseshell butterflies.
Marsh Baccharis (Baccharis douglasii). Butterflies aren’t the only reason you’ll want a Marsh Baccharis growing in your garden. This plant is an entomologist’s delight, attracting a range of interesting flies, beetles and other insects and bugs. Marsh Baccharis has bright green leaves and tiny, cream-colored blooms. It isn’t a focal point to speak of, more like a nice background plant.
California Lilacs (Ceanothus). If I had to pick a favorite flower, lilac would be a contender. They are as stunningly fragrant as they are visually attractive, and they continue to flourish for decades once established. It’s hard to believe that a plant this evergreen and profuse in its blooms is also drought tolerant.
Venus Thistle (Cirsium occidentale venustum). Here’s another fun addition for your rock garden. Thistles may look hostile, but their nectar is a favorite of both adult swallowtails as well as hummingbirds.
Saltgrass (Distichlis spicata). This is a grass, not a flower. It looks like a Bermuda grass and behaves like one too. Saltgrass is a favorite home for multiple species of butterfly larvae and can handle seriously high traffic areas.
Buckwheat (Eriogonum spp.). There are many different species of buckwheat and virtually all of them are attractive to pollinators. One of my favorite species is called sulfur flower (Erigonum umbellatum), which blooms bright yellow and grows just 3-inches tall, making great groundcover. Do be aware that it prefers cooler climates, with partial sun.
Penstemon “Margarita BOP” (Penstemon heterophyllus). Penstemon is gorgeous in all her different species but the “Margarita BOP” is a good one. It blooms sky blue and becomes purple, remaining evergreen when not in bloom. It also does well in high-traffic areas of the yard or garden.
Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale). Have a poor-draining area of your yard? Try planting some Western Azalea and see how they do. These plants thrive in moist, bog-like environments. Their leaves are deciduous and they have bright white blooms with swatches of golden pollen to attract our winged friends.
This list could go on and on but the following should get you started. What are some of your favorite butterfly-friendly plants?