Video Notes/Commentary on Butterfly Gardening - National Audubon Society, by Dr. Paul A. Opler and Jim Ebner

This little masterpiece is loaded with mistakes, and like so many (all?) other such efforts, seems rather haphazard/random in its selections and information.

Some plants (like lantana) attract lots, other (like tulips) are nearly useless larval food:  dill, milkweed (for black swallowtail, monarch).

Plant tall lilac, buddleia, and lantana against wall with annuals and perennials in front.  Or in the open, plant tall plants in center, surrounded by shorter plants—or tall plants at western edge, lower plants in front of them.  Plants through season (spring to fall) for nectar:

Spring: lilac, phlox, dame’s rocket (=?)

Summer: butterfly weed (=?), zinnia, lantana, French marigold

Fall: aster, purple coneflower, butterfly bush (buddleia)

Plant in patches and groves rather than singly, both perennials and annuals.  Include “native” wildflowers: black-eyed susan, cardinal flower; “white and red clover are addictive to all sorts of butterflies”; oxeye daisy, dogbane, eupatorium, goldenrod (but not all produce nectar), hawkweed (dozens of species), ironweed (=?), joe-pye weed (=?), stonecrop thistles attract many species, buckwheat (Eriogonum).  “Be sure to check regulations regarding collecting native flowers…”!

Plant nectar plants near larval-food plants, e.g. for Eastern black swallowtail: parsley, carrot, or dill for larvae, near zinnia (one of its favorites for nectar).

“Newly emerged males of swallowtails, blues, crescents, cabbage whites, suck moisture from wet mud or sand .. . called “puddling”.  To make a place for butterflies to “puddle”, fill a shallow pan with sand in a sunny spot and keep it saturated with water.

Some butterflies like mourning cloak, anglewings, and goatweed butterfly (=?) prefer rotting fruit to nectar [in fact I’ve never seen mourning cloak and anglewings at flowers, ever!]  Put pieces of overripe banana, apple, peach, pear, etc. on top of a post or in a hanging container out of reach of ants. 

In Southern states and tropics, artificial feeders are used, although “not yet proven in temperate areas.”

“Boxes for the overwintering of mourning cloak, tortoise shells, and anglewings (presumably for Vanessa spp. etc.) may work in some settings.”

Avoid chemical pesticides.  Control weeds by mulching.  Anyway, some “weeds” are excellent caterpillar foods.  Some favorite nectar plants are illegal to grow in some areas, e.g. milkweeds, thistles.  Also, respect laws regarding collecting native plants, blah, blah, blah.

Twenty-five nectar plants (some of the best available species, easiest to grow, etc.)

Zones 1-10 (most of California is zones 9 and 10)

Zone 9=mild winters with rare but regular frosts and very long, hot summers

Zone 10=subtropical, virtually frost-free (shows most of coastal California!)

Abelia x grandiflora (glossy abelia): Zones 4-9.  8 ft.  June-September.  

  • Swallowtails, whites, sulfur, blues, skippers (also shows monarch at flowers, also fritillary)

Buddleia davidii (orange-eye butterfly bush): Zones 5-9.  6-12 ft. June-September.   Purple, blue, white.  “One of the best plants for attracting butterflies.”  “Needs daily watering.”!

  • Swallowtails, whites, sulfurs, brushfoots, skippers

Hibiscus hibiscus [sic!]  All year.   Zones 5-10!  4-8 ft.  Water daily!

  • Usually limited to giant sulfurs and skippers (in other words, forget it)

Lantana (L. camara or L. hibrida [sic])  Zones 8-10.  3-4 ft.  Late spring to fall.

“Butterflies swarm to its blossoms.”  Treat as annual in north.  Cut back in fall.  Avoid irritating leaves.

  • Almost all butterflies, including swallowtails, whites, sulfurs, hairstreaks, brushfoots, skippers (also shows gulf fritillary)

Syringa vulgaris (lilac)  Zones 3-7.  15 ft.  May-June

Use as backdrop, hedgerow (shows an amazing one, like mine is supposed to become, all colors).  Bloom briefly, 2 weeks.

  • Swallowtails, whites, brushfoots, skippers

Ligustrum spp. (privets)  Zones 4-9.  20 ft.  June-July

  • Swallowtails, whites, haristreaks, blues, brushfoots, skippers

Aster spp. (including “Aster times frickarti”) Zones 4-10.  2-6 ft.  August –October

Over 200 species in North America!?

  • Whites, sulfurs, coppers, blues, brushfoots, skippers

Monarda didyma (bergamot, bee balm, oswego tea, horsemint)  Zones 4-7.  2-4 ft.  July-September

Bright red.

  • Swallows, brushfoots, sulfurs, skippers (and shows a cute sphinx moth!)

Liatris sp. (gayfather, blazing star)  Zones 3-10.  3-5 ft.  July-September

  • Whites, sulfurs, occasionally brushfoots, especially skippers

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed) Zones 3-10, 2 ft., July-September

Likes sandy/ rocky places.  Doesn’t like transplanting.

  • Brushfoots (especially fritillaries), swallows, coppers, hairstreaks, blues, sulfurs

Hesperis matrionalis (dame’s-rocket)  Zones 3-8.  3-4 ft.  May-June

Resembles stock.  Part shade.  

  • Swallows, brushfoots, sulfurs, skippers (and shows monarch)

Lathyrus latifolius (everlasting sweet-pea [they say “everlasting, or sweet pea”]—good grief!  Zones 3-8.  3-4 ft.  June-September  Must be replanted from seed each spring” [sic] [flower picture is upside down]

  • Whites, sulfurs, skippers

Gaillardia pulchella (firewheel, Indian blanket) Zones 1-10, 1-2 ft., June-September

Favored nectar source for many butterflies.  “yellow tipped with red” [picture shows exactly opposite]

  • Sulfurs, brushfoots, occasionally swallowtails

Phyla lanceolata (fogfruit, matgrass) Zones 6-10.  6 ft.  May-October

“An especially desirable groundcover . . . excellent substitute for a grass lawn”

  • Brushfoots, blues, hairstreaks, skippers

Tagetes patula (French marigold) Zones 1-10.  6-24 in.  Spring-Fall

Best is single.  French form, not American spp.

  • Excellent for brushfoots and skippers, occasionally sulfurs and swallowtails (and shows a gulf fritillary)

Tithonia rotundifolia (Mexican sunflower, torch flower) Zones 4-10.  5-6 ft.  July-October

  • Attracts many species.  Swallowtails and “brushfoots including monarchs and queens” [neither of which are brushfoots!] (also shows gulf fritillary)

Phlox paniculata (phlox) Perennial.  Zones 4-9.  6 ft.  Spring-late Summer

  • Swallowtails, whites, sulfurs, skippers (also shows a sphinx moth and a greenish Lycaenid)

Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower) Perennial.  Zones 3-9.  4 ft.  July-September

  • Swallowtails, whites, sulfurs, skippers, brushfoots (shows an anglewing!! at flowers)

Centranthus ruber (red valerian) Perennial. Zones 4-9.  2-3 ft.  Late Spring-Fall.

  • Swallowtails, whites, brushfoots, skippers (and shows monarch)

Salvia splendens and S. elegans  Perennial.  Zones 5-10.  1-4 ft.  Spring-Fall

  • Brushfoots, whites, skippers (and shows Monarch and a Lycaenid)

Scabiosa caucasica (pincushion flower) Perennial.  Zones 3-9.  6-24 in.  July-September

  • Whites, hairstreaks, blues, brushfoots, skippers (but shows nothing but swallowtails—several kinds!)  Que pasa?

Verbena hybrida (garden verbena) Annual/Perennial.  Zones 3-5 (Annual), 6-10 (Perennial).  1 ft.  Spring-Fall.  3,000 species, 200 native to North America!?  Good cover.

  • Swallows, sulfurs, hairstreaks, brushfoots, skippers

Zinnia elegans or Z. angustifolia  Zones 1-10.  1-4 ft.  Spring-Fall

A favorite.

  • Swallows, brushfoots, whites, sulfurs, skippers (and monarchs)

Origanum vulgare (marjoram) Perennials. Zones 4-10.  2 ft.  July-October

  • Whites, blues, hairstreaks, skippers

Mentha spicata (spearmint)  Zones 1-10.  2 ft.  July-October

  • Whites, coppers, hairstreaks, blues, skippers, brushfoots (and shows monarch) 

Large, medium, small butterflies in North America

“Eight major groups” are (they say, wrongly):

Swallowtails = swallowtails

Brushfoots = brushfoots

Whites & =Pierids


Blues =Lycaenids



Skippers =skippers

0 =Danaids (monarch, queen, etc.)

=Heliconias (gulf fritillary, etc.)

=Satyrids (ringlet, oxeye, etc.)

Large (parentheses=not in California)

  • (Zebra swallowtail—feeds on pawpaw!
  • Tiger swallowtail—females larger and have more blue.  Many flowers for nectar.
  • Two-tailed swallowtail—Lilac, thistle, milkweed, males on wet sand.
  • Monarch—Tithonia, buddleia, lilac, lantana, marigold, milkweed, males occasionally on damp sand
  • Gulf fritillary—strays north in late summer.  Lantana, marigold, etc., etc.; caterpillars eat Passiflora.
  • Queen—all Southern states, some go for North in summer (hundreds of miles); larvae feed on milkweed.
  • (Giant Swallowtail—feeds on citrus
  • (Eastern Black Swallowtail—caterpillars feed on umbels
  • Anise Swallowtail—May-July, longer in California.  Zinnia, lilac, thistle, daisy etc., fennel, carrots, parsley for larvae.
  • Zebra (a long wing)—West to Southern California; occasionally caterpillars on Passiflora nectar at lantana, “trumpet”, honeysuckle, etc.
  • Mourning cloak—long-lived hibernators can appear on warm summer days.  Coneflower, marigold, thistle etc., also overripe fruit.
  • (Spicebush swallowtail—larvae on spicebush=?
  • Pipevine swallowtail—larvae on Aristolochia.  Mostly Southern.  Lilac, buddleia, lantana, also lupine and milkweed (favor lilac and purple flowers)
  • ?Checkered white (Pontia?)—common in South, North later in summer.  Clover, alfalfa, blackberry, aster, salvia
  • Cabbage white—almost all flowers.  Larvae on Brassicaceae.
  • Cloudless sulfur—tropical, but northward in summer.  Lantana, buddleia.  Larvae on Cassia.
  • Clouded sulfur—most common yellow butterfly in North America.  Many flowers:  marigold, zinnia, pincushion, dandelion, larvae on clover and alfalfa
  • Orange sulfur—abundant in Southern states, North in summer.  Gaillardia, aster, verbena, sunflower
  • (Viceroy—fruit, buddleia, zinnia, daisy etc.
  • Painted Lady (thistle butterfly)—common in South, North in summer.  Zinnia, marigold, coneflower, lantana, buddleia, etc. etc.  Larva on thistle.
  • West coast lady (Vanessa annabella)—Lantana, marigold, coneflower, zinnia, buddleia
  • American lady (Vanessa virginiensis)—North in summer.  Lantana, butterfly weed, marigold, buddleia, etc.
  • Red Admiral—North in summer.  Lilac, buddleia, aster, coneflower, thistle, goldenrod, overripe fruit, damp spots.  Larvae on nettles.
  • Buckeye—North to Canada in summer.  Lantana, marigold, etc. etc.  Larvae on snapdragon, etc.
  • Field crescent—dwarf zinnia and many others.  Larvae on aster.
  • Sachem—move North in summer.  Marigold, buddleia, dwarf zinnia.
  • Fiery skipper—“tremendous appetite for flowers”, dwarf zinnia, marigold, etc.
  • Woodland skipper—many flowers including buddleia and lantana.
  • Sandhill skipper—marigold, lantana, mints, and thistles.
  • Purplish copper—small flowers including goldenrod, clover, aster, thistles.
  • Spring azure—marigold, gaillardia.  Larvae on flowering dogwood.  Males love to sip moisture.  Not common in gardens.
  • W. tailed blue—late spring.  White clover, salvias, dwarf zinnia, marigold, daisies.
  • ?(Marine blue—Phyla and marigold and alfalfa
  • Reakirt's blue??—Southern California.  Clovers
  • Great purple hairstreak—Privet, phyla, dwarf zinnia, fruit tree blossoms.
  • Coral hairstreak—marigold, milkweed, etc.
  • Gray hairstreak—all U.S.  Great variety of flowers, especially salvias, clovers, butterfly weed.
  • Common checkered skipper—verbena, fogfruit, clovers.
  • Common sootywing—marigold, thistle, etc.

Can introduce eggs, caterpillars, or chrysalids.  Adults will wander off.  Dill, parsley, or carrot in garden will be found by anise swallowtail.  “Butterfly livestock” available on internet, but be careful only to introduce species native to area.