By: Molly Dean
Not long after we moved from our small, shady city lot to a sprawling sunny piece of land in the country, we were rewarded by a visit from a flock of monarch butterflies that stopped to feed at a plot of wild asters. From then on, as we developed our new gardens, we made careful note of which flowers would draw butterflies. Fritillaries came to the coreopsis, tiger swallowtails loved our Rubrum lilies, and both species seemed to enjoy the purple coneflowers. But although there are many annuals and perennials that butterflies find very attractive, in our experience it was the flowering shrubs that proved to be irresistible to them.
Lured by scent and color, butterflies visit certain plants to feed on nectar, a sugary solution containing the carbohydrates that butterflies need for energy. After planting many of the shrubs recommended as butterfly favorites, over the years we found the five plants described below -- four shrubs and one woody vine -- to be the most effective at drawing the widest range of butterflies in large numbers. All of these plants thrive as shrubs in my USDA Hardiness Zone 7 Georgia garden; in colder climates, they survive as herbaceous perennials, dying back to the ground in winter. Keep in mind that a range of early- to late-blooming plants will ensure that the butterflies have food through the season, and a mix of heights will attract both high- and low-flying species.
For me, there's no better way to spend a summer's day than to laze in the sun by our large hedge of Buddleia davidii, a cool drink in one hand and a camera in the other, watching the butterflies.