Top 10 Butterfly Nectar Plants

What are the top butterfly nectar plants? People often ask this question as they plan their butterfly gardens. After all, why plant something that isn’t a strong attractant or doesn’t offer rich nectar if you’re limited in space in your yard?

Tall Porterweed Coral/Pink or Purple- Stachytarpheta cayennensis or mutabilis Butterfly Nectar Plant

Tall Porterweed
Coral/Pink or Purple

Stachytarpheta cayennensis or mutabilis
Butterfly Nectar Plant

Zinnias Nectar Plant Gulf Fritillary Butterflies

Zinnias Nectar Plant
Gulf Fritillary Butterflies

Lantana species - Butterfly Nectar Plant - Gulf Fritillary Butterflies

Lantana species
Butterfly Nectar Plant
Gulf Fritillary Butterflies

Butterfly Bush Gulf Fritillary Butterflies Nectar Plant

Butterfly Bush Nectar Plant
Gulf Fritillary Butterflies
Considered invasive in some areas

Pentas lanceolata Butterfly Nectar Plant Palamedes Swallowtails

Pentas lanceolata
Butterfly Nectar Plant
Palamedes Swallowtails

Bottlebrush Nectar Plant Callistemon species Gulf Fritillary butterflies

Bottlebrush Nectar Plant
Callistemon species
Gulf Fritillary butterflies

Blazing Star Nectar Plant - Liatris species - Cloudless Sulphur butterfly

Blazing Star Nectar Plant
Liatris species
Cloudless Sulphur butterfly
Native to US

Mistflower Eupatorium coelestinum - Butterfly nectar plant- photo by A J Hart - Monarch and Queen butterflies

Mistflower Eupatorium coelestinum
Butterfly nectar plant
Photo by A J Hart
Monarch and Queen butterflies
US native plant

Milkweed - Asclepias species - Butterfly nectar plant - Gulf Fritillary and Sleepy Orange butterflies

Milkweed – Asclepias species
Butterfly nectar plant
Gulf Fritillary & Sleepy Orange
US native plant

Golden Dewdrop - Duranta repens - Butterfly Nectar Plant - Zebra Swallowtail

Golden Dewdrop – Duranta repens
Butterfly Nectar Plant
Zebra Swallowtail butterfly

Goldenrod - Solidago species - Butterfly nectar plant - Gulf Fritillary & Buckeye

Goldenrod – Solidago species
Butterfly nectar plant
Gulf Fritillary & Buckeye
Seasonal bloom
US native plant

Cape Honeysuckle - Butterfly nectar plant - Seasonal bloom - Fairly species specific

Cape Honeysuckle
Tecoma capensis
Butterfly nectar plant
Seasonal bloom
Warm climates only
Fairly species specific

Spanish Needles - Bidens sp. - Butterfly Nectar Plant/Weed - Eastern Tiger Swallowtail - NOT recommended for gardens

Spanish Needles – Bidens sp
Butterfly Nectar Plant/Weed
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
US native plant
NOT recommended for gardens

Seed from Spanish Needles

Seed from Spanish Needles

Joe Pye Weed Eutrochium species Butterfly nectar plant Gulf Fritillary

Joe Pye Weed Eutrochium species
Butterfly nectar plant
Gulf Fritillary
Low to excellent attractant
US native

Ironweed Veronica species - Butterfly Nectar Plant - Easter Tiger Swallowtail - US native plant

Ironweed – Veronica species
Butterfly Nectar Plant
Easter Tiger Swallowtail
US native plant

This is a challenge to answer for several reasons.

A) The top nectar plants depends partially on the area you live in your country. For example: Joe Pye Weed is a top nectar plant in some areas while in our garden, we rarely see butterflies drinking from it.

B) Some plants are invasive or aggressive in some areas of the country while in other areas, it is a struggle to keep them alive for more than a couple of years. Butterfly Bush is an example of a plant in this category. Considered invasive in some states, in southern states where the soil doesn’t freeze, nematodes kill these bushes usually within a couple of years.

C) Native-only gardeners plant only native plants. A list of the top 10 nectar plants may include non-natives. A list of only native nectar plants will leave out some of the top nectar producing plants.

D) Some plants are seasonal bloomers. Small yards would provide more nectar when planned with plants that produce a bit less nectar per bloom yet blooms most of the year rather than only a few weeks of the year.

E) When it comes to butterflies, some plants are more species specific. Flowers with long throats are of use only to butterflies with long proboscises. If a yard is limited in space, plants with shorter throats that make nectar accessible to all butterfly species would be a better choice.

F) Some plants are weeds. Yes, a weed is a plant growing where one doesn’t want it to grow, but some have such undesirable qualities that they are not suitable for a garden. Spanish Needles (Bidens sp) is one such plant. It is a top nectar producing plant but the seed is so horrible that rather than try to remove the seed, many people will throw away the affected garment.

G) Some plants grow only in certain climates. A great nectar source in Florida but wouldn’t grow long enough to produce enough bloom to make it worth planting in Maine. In return,Lilacs won’t bloom in Florida.

Knowing all this, it is impossible to develop a BEST NECTAR PLANTS list that will be embraced by all gardening types of people, let alone hold true for climates from Maine to Florida to Oregon to Nevada to Texas to South Dakota.

That being said, our favorite top ten nectar plants are the ten first photographed here. None are seasonal although several are controversial and several cannot be grown in the extreme northern states.
1. Tall Porterweed
2. Zinnias
3. Lantana
4. Butterfly Bush
5. Pentas
6. Bottlebrush
7. Blazing Star
8. Mist Flower
9. Milkweed
10. Golden Dewdrop
In addition, other favorites are:
11. Mexican Sunflower
12. Cosmos
13. Scarlet Morning-glory

Some of the top native nectar plants are:
1. Blazing Star
2. Mist Flower
3. Goldenrod
4. Annual Phlox
5. Joe Pye Weed (seasonal bloom – attracts in some areas, not in others)
6. Iron Weed (seasonal bloom)
7. Buttonbush
8. Climbing Aster
9. Milkweed
10. Tick-seed (Coreopsis)

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