I’m pretty sure you hate bugs. Almost everybody does. But no matter how deeply entrenched your aversion to insects is, you’ll make an exception for butterflies. Butterflies don’t sting. Butterflies don’t bite. Butterflies don’t devour your plants (well, their caterpillars sometime do, but let’s forget about that). Butterflies pollinate flowers. And butterflies are beautiful. A garden adorned with multitudes of butterflies is a happy sight indeed.
Unlike caterpillars, adult butterflies lack mouthparts for chewing. They only feed by using a long tube called a proboscis to suck the sweet nectar of flowers. Not just any plant’s flower will do. To attract butterflies for an extended period, plants need to produce nectar-rich blossoms nonstop until a fall frost. The following 10 plants do.
- Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii). This aptly named shrubs bear arching spikes of fragrant flowers in colors of purple, blue, red, pink, and white. Most kinds grow 8 to 10 feet high, but new, compact types form mounds 2 to 3 feet tall.
- Common zinnia (Zinnia elegans). One of the easily and quickest annual to grow from seed, this flowers come in mixes that grow from 2 to 4 feet tall and offer just about every color but blue. Taller growers with single flowers that show their yellow centers attract the most butterflies.
- Lantana (Lantana sp.). A perennial in mild-winter areas and an annual elsewhere, lantana is as tough-as-nails, enduring heat, drought, and poor soil. Rounded flower clusters may be a solid color or a combination of colors. Newer kinds grow about 2 feet tall and spread 4 to 6 feet.
- Pentas (Pentas lanceolata). It’s hard to beat this tropical African native for continuous, eye-catching color. Spreading, multistemmed plants reach 2-3 feet tall and wide. Showy clusters of red, pink, white, or lavender star-shaped blooms appear atop the foliage.
- Marigold (Tagetes sp.). Easy to start from seed or transplants, these old favorites grow 6 to 36 inches tall and bear edible flowers that range from yellow and orange to reddish-maroon. Removing spent flowers keeps them blooming.
- Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). If you aren’t familiar with this native shrub, you should be. Growing from 3 to 15 feet tall and thriving in wet soil, it flaunts remarkable, creamy white flowers that look like pincushions. ‘Sputnik’ has pink flowers.
- Salvia (Salvia sp.). Dozens of species are available, including annuals, perennials, and shrubs. Spires of flowers in just aboutevery color appear on plants from 1 to 5 feet high.
- Common cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus). Like zinnias and marigolds, these fast-growing annuals are simple to grow from seed scattered on the ground. Tall, graceful, lacy plants from 4 to 8 feet tall produce large white, pink, rose, red, lavender, or purple flowers.
- Glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora). This old-fashioned, evergreen shrub grows 3 to 6 feet tall and wide and sports clusters of pink or white, bell-shaped blossoms.
- Bee balm (Monarda didyma). A Southern favorite, this native perennial grows 2-4 feet tall with blossoms of red, pink, purple, or white. Plant mildew-resistant selections, such as ‘Jacob Cline’ (rose-red), ‘Mahogany’ (dark red), ‘Marshall’s Delight’ (purplish-pink), and ‘Violet Queen’ (purple).