Some Butterfly Attracting Plants for Kentucky Gardens

by Dr. Charles V. Covell Jr.

Society of Kentucky Lepidopterists


Below are listed some trees, shrubs, and flowering herbaceous plants that are often visited
by butterflies as nectar sources.





Many species of spring butterflies will visit redbud blossoms for nectar.

Flowering dogwood

Butterflies occasionally visit dogwood blossoms.

Apple, pear, and plum (and other Prunus species)

Blossoms attract various spring butterflies.  The wild Chickasaw Plum is especially good.






Small white flowers and bronzy leaves; blossoms attractive to butterflies, late summer to fall.


Many stains of azalea attract swallowtails, sulfurs, and other butterflies in the springtime.


(Buddleia species)

Even though blossoms vary in color from purple to white, they are extremely attractive to many species of butterflies from July to frost.



The white, globe-like flowers attract many butterflies in July.  Prefers swampy areas, but may be possible to transplant.


A weed in Florida, this plant can be grown in Kentucky summer gardens.  It is a major butterfly nectar source in the subtropics and tropics.  A new cultivar called Miss Huff may be able to overwinter in Kentucky with protection from frost.


Bush with spikes of blue flowers; almost as good as Buddleia




Herbaceous Plants


(Medicago sativa)

Butterflies love to visit alfalfa blossoms in fields, and the plant should be attractive around the home as well.


Butterflies visit blossoms in early summer.


(Trifolium spp.)

Blossoms of clovers (especially red clover T. pratense) attract many butterflies and small moths.


(Rudbeckia spp.)

Generally attractive to flower-visiting butterflies.


Popular pink garden plant.



Both domesticated (Shasta) daisies, and wild (Ox-eye) daisies attract early summer butterflies.


(Erigeron spp.)

These wildflowers with small daisy-like blossoms are common in fields and waste areas, and attract small butterflies in May and June.

Eupatorium spp.

Mistflower (E. coelestrinum), Joe-pye weed (E. fistulosum), late thoroughwort (E. serotinum) and some of their relatives are extremely attractive to butterflies.  August-October


(Solidago spp.)

Blossoms visited by butterflies, plus moths, and many other insects.  Foster them on your property.


(Vernonia spp.)

Purple blossoms very attractive to fall butterflies.  Late August to October.  Let it live in your yard.


Small butterflies, especially small skippers, will visit marigolds, especially in late summer.


(Asclepias spp.)

Blossoms of butterfly week, or orange milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and common milkweed (A. syriaca) are probably our most attractive flowers for butterflies in June and July.  They may be transplanted to the garden from the wild.


Mentha species.


(Phlox spp.)

Wild, and some cultivated phloxes (especially spring-blooming species) attract swallowtails and other butterflies.


(Helianthus spp.)

The 17 wild species of Helianthus in Kentucky are generally attractive to butterflies.  Most have yellow blossoms, attract butterflies, and bloom from July to August or later.


(Bidens cernua)

This and related species of Bidens put out yellow blossoms in September and October in sunny, wet areas, and are quite common.  Butterflies will visit them.

Sweet clover

(Melilotus spp.)

Large, straggly plants, growing in waste areas and fields, attract smaller butterflies to their yellow blossoms. (May to October)


While a prickly nuisance, thistles of various types are excellent butterfly attractors.  August to September.


Wild vetches in forest and roadside are visited by some butterflies.  Crown vetch (Coronilla varia) is grown along highways as a cover, and is also a fairly good nectar source for butterflies.


Most strains are attractive to summer and early fall butterflies, especially skippers.


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Last Modified: February 2014