Year 2- Wild about Butterflies

Plants to Attract Butterflies to Your Backyard

Butterflies are happy to come to our backyards if we provide what they need. Some things to consider in making plant choices are that nectar plants (flowers) attract a wide variety of butterflies, and that larval foodplants attract very specific kinds of butterflies seeking plants on which to lay eggs and that will nourish the caterpillars.

Since many common butterflies are on the wing throughout the year in our valley—as long as it isn’t too cold or hot and dry—we can use different flowering plants to provide nectar throughout the year. In late fall, mountain marigold and rabbitbrush robe themselves in golden heads attracting a host of species. During the spring, patches of wildflowers come alive with butterflies. Late summer flowering shrubs include red bird of paradise, butterfly bush, Mexican sunflower, lantana, desert lavender, and bee-brush; perennials include desert verbena, butterfly mist, floss-flower, and native passion vine. Strategic plantings or massing of these plants will fill a garden with a wide variety of butterflies.

Some caterpillar food plants make excellent background plantings, screens, or spots of greenery. Desert hackberry, a tall native shrub of desert washes is the foodplant of the Empress Leilia, and the American Snout. Fern acacia, a tropical-looking, low native shrub that makes a soft accent near a patio or pool, is also the foodplant of the Acacia Skipper, and the Mexican Yellow.

Native mesquites are foodplants for hairstreaks, feather tree for sulphurs, kidneywood for the often numerous Marine Blue butterflies; and citrus trees for the Giant Swallowtail—the caterpillars resemble bird droppings.

The plants listed here make a good start on a butterfly garden. Many of these species look their fullest and best from late summer through fall, a time when there are normally many butterflies in the garden.


  • Ageratum corymbosum, Flossflower, nectar plant for male Queens
  • Aristolochia watsonii, Native pipevine, foodplant for Pipevine Swallowtail
  • Bouteloua curtipendula, Sideoats grama (grass), foodplant for Orange Skipperling
  • Cosmos sulphureus, Cosmos, nectar plant
  • Dicliptera resupinata, Twinseed, foodplant for Texan Crescent
  • Eupatorium greggii, Butterfly mist, nectar plant for male Queens
  • Eupatorium odoratum, Eupatorium, nectar plant for many butterflies
  • Galvezia juncea, Galvezia, foodplant for Tropical Buckeye
  • Glandularia gooddingii, Desert verbena, nectar plant for many butterflies
  • Passiflora foetida, Native passionvine (vine), foodplant for Gulf Fritillary
  • Petroselinum crispum, Parsley (biennial), foodplant for Black Swallowtail
  • Senna covesii, Desert senna, foodplant for Sleepy Orange, Cloudless Sulphur
  • Thymophylla pentachaeta, Dogweed, nectar plant; foodplant for Dainty Sulphur

  • Acacia angustissima, Fern acacia, foodplant for Acacia Skipper, Mexican Sulphur
  • Aloysia gratissima, Beebrush, nectar plant for gossamer wings
  • Anisacanthus thurberi, Native honeysuckle, nectar plant; foodplant for Elada Checkerspot
  • Asclepias linaria, Pineleaf milkweed, foodplant for Queen, Monarch
  • Asclepias subulata, Desert milkweed, foodplant for Queen, Monarch
  • Atriplex spp., Saltbush, foodplant for Western Pygmy Blue
  • Baccharis sarothroides, Desert Broom, nectar (winter) for many, esp. Great Purple Hairstreak
  • Bebbia juncea, Sweet bush, nectar plant for gossamer wings and sulphurs
  • Buddleia davidii, Butterfly bush, nectar plant
  • Caesalpinia pulcherrima, Red bird of paradise, nectar plant for swallowtails and sulphurs
  • Calliandra californica, Baja fairy duster, foodplant for various Blues
  • Chrysothamnus nauseosus, Rabbitbrush, nectar (fall) for many species
  • Dalea spp., Indigo bush, nectar plant; foodplant for Southern Dogface
  • Hyptis emoryi, Desert lavender, nectar plant
  • Lycium spp., Wolfberry, nectar plant (winter)
  • Lantana spp., Lantana, nectar plant
  • Senna hirsuta var. glaberrima, Long-pod senna, foodplant for Sleepy Orange, Cloudless Sulphur
  • Tagetes lemmoni, Mountain marigold, nectar (fall) for many species
  • Tithonia fruticosa, Mexican sunflower, nectar; foodplant for Bordered Patch

    Trees & Large Shrubs
  • Acacia greggii, Catclaw, nectar plant
  • Celtis pallida, Desert hackberry, foodplant for Empress Leilia, American Snout
  • Celtis reticulata, Canyon hackberry, foodplant for Empress Leilia, American Snout
  • Citrus spp., Citrus trees, foodplant for Giant Swallowtail
  • Eysenhardtia orthocarpa, Kidneywood, nectar; foodplant for Marine Blue
  • Havardia pallens, Tenaza, nectar plant
  • Lysiloma watsoni, Feather tree, foodplant for Agarithe Sulphur
  • Prosopis velutina, Native mesquite, nectar; foodplant for Leda Hairstreak, Palmers Metalmark
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