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3029 Davenport Rd
Knoxville, TN, 37920
United States

(865) 573-9591

Stanley's Greenhouse is a family owned and operated plant farm and garden center in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Plants That You Can Grow in Containers to Attract Butterflies

Ideas You Can Use

Check out our answers to commonly asked questions and the latest tips from our plant specialists!


Plants That You Can Grow in Containers to Attract Butterflies

Anna Montgomery

A Stanley’s Greenhouse Workshop led by Lisa Stanley and Marianne Wilson for “On the Wing: Stanley’s First Butterfly Festival” - August 26, 2016

In general butterflies are attracted to pink, orange, purple, red, and yellow flowers, however, listed below are the butterfly-attracting plants, shrubs, and trees that can be grown in containers.

Allium (Allium tuberosum) also called garlic chives – white-flowering perennial; attracts monarch and other varieties of butterflies as well as bees; an edible herb; typically blooms August to September; fragrant leaves; deer and drought tolerant

Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) also known as fall aster – herbaceous perennial; blue-purple flowers; balsam-scented foliage; their late August-to-September blooms attract fall butterflies (especially the checkered skipper species) and birds; preferred nectar source for many butterfly species; drought and poor soil tolerant

*Autumn sage (Salvia greggii) also called red salvia, red Texas sage, or hummingbird mint; try ‘Furman’s red’ or ‘Radio red’ varieties – a hardy perennial; Lisa’s favorite flower; this plant’s clear blue-red flowers do not clash with any color Lisa has tried; closest to a “plant once and walk away” plant; the drier the better; smells like mint; attracts butterflies, birds, and hummingbirds; blooms in late spring and again in fall; deer resistant; fast grower

Azalea (Rhododendron) – perennial flowering shrub; three-season interest; pink, purple, or red flowers; non-white-colored azaleas attract swallowtails and grey comma butterflies as well as hummingbirds; keep soil moist but not wet through summer and fall

Bee balm (Monarda didyma or fistulosa) also called horsemint, Oswego tea, and wild bergamot – a perennial wildflower in the mint family; pink or lavender flowers; fragrant leaves; good cut flower and dried flower; attracts butterflies, pollinating insects, insects that control garden pests, and hummingbirds; may be used in teas, tastes like a cross between spearmint, peppermint, and oregano; fistulosa variety more resistant to powdery mildew than other varieties

Big-sage (Lantana camara) also known as wild-sage, red-sage, white-sage, or tickberry - annual; white, yellow, orange, red and purple blooms, often mixed in the same cluster; low maintenance; drought and poor soil tolerant; attracts butterflies; ‘Luscious grape’ variety is trailing and good in raised beds or containers; ‘Miss Huff’ variety is favored by monarch butterflies

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) ‘Little Henry’ – also called sweet coneflower; a vigorous, but very manageable perennial; full to part sun; somewhat drought tolerant; attracts hummingbirds as well as butterflies

Bluebeard (Caryopteris) – perennial with striking deep- blue flowers early summer through fall; prefers full sun; fragrant foliage; once established, needs only occasional watering;

Blue mist flower (Conoclinium coelestinum) – hardy ageratum; reseeds with abandon, but volunteers are easy to pull out; monarch butterflies love it

Blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensus) – an annual in our zone; blue flowers, monarch and gulf fritillary butterflies love it

Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) – perennial; edible herb; can be used as a substitute for green fennel in any recipe or combined with French tarragon; a popular host plant for the anise swallowtail and Eastern black swallowtail

Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) – perennial in our zone; purple, pink, white, red; the best butterfly attracting bush; all butterfly bush varieties attract butterflies, but these varieties are powerful attractors: ‘Buddleja buzz’, ‘Miss Molly’ and ‘Miss Ruby’ (close to true red)

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) – native perennial shrub; unique white flowers; attracts swallowtail and monarch butterflies, bees, and other pollinators

Cape plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) ‘Imperial Blue’ – annual; blooms from spring to fall; low maintenance; drought tolerant and, once established, needs little watering; good for attracting butterflies both as a larval host for some species and food supply for others; deer resistant

Celosia (Celosia) – an annual also called cockscomb flower; unusually striking flowers; blooms fall and summer for up to 10 weeks; full sun; excellent cut flower, low maintenance

Coneflower or pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) – perennial; not really purple, really pink despite its name; especially popular with painted lady butterflies

Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) – also called star jasmine, but not related to common jasmine; annual or tender perennial; moderate-to-fast-growing plant; ‘Madison’ has superior hardiness; rabbits love to eat this plant

Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris) – a native perennial also called tickseed, tall tickseed, or tall coreopsis; blooms July through September; a yellow, daisy-like flower with a brown center; low maintenance; good cut flower; full sun

Cosmos (Cosmos sulphurems) – annual; attracts monarch, painted lady, and other butterflies; try orange ‘Cosmic’ cosmos

Cuphea (Vermillionaire) – also called cigar plant or large firecracker plant; annual that loves heat and sun; orange, red, or yellow flowers; easy maintenance; continuous bloomer; heat and drought tolerant; also favored by hummingbirds

Goldenrod or stiff goldenrod (Oligoneurm or solidago rigidium) – perennial; yellow flowers; monarch butterflies love it; thrives in inhospitable soils

Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggi) – annual; a hard-to-find, less-hardy ageratum, but monarch butterflies adore it

Heliotrope (Heliotropium aborescens) also called common heliotrope or cherry pie plant – annual; fragrant blue-purple or white flowers; good nectar source for butterflies later in the summer; great for containers

Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) – annual outside or dwarf varieties make excellent indoor houseplants in the winter; a less well-known butterfly attractor, jasmine also attracts beneficial insects such as honeybees

Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum or purpureum) or spotted Joe Pye weed or trumpet weed – native perennial; pale pink-purple flowers that smell like vanilla; a low-maintenance full-sun to partial-shade plant; attracts monarchs and other butterflies with its sweet nectar; maculatum has more foliage and flower heads than the wild purpureum variety; named for the American man who pioneered using it to help people suffering from typhoid fever

Lantana (Viburnum lantana) - annual in our zone; continuous bloomers in an array of colors; attract butterflies, but not monarchs

May Night sage (Salvia x superba) also called meadow sage or perennial salvia (check out ‘Mainacht’ variety) – outstanding perennial; blue and purple spires; tolerant of clay soil; full sun; blooms early to mid summer; also attracts hummers

Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) – annual; fuzzy purple, white, or combination of the two colored; magnet for butterflies; native to Mexico

Mexican firebush (Hamelia patens) - annual; coppery-orange, red or salmon flowers; full sun, loves heat; somewhat drought tolerant, but prefers regular moisture; attracts songbirds and hummingbirds as well as butterflies

Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) also called common milkweed – perennial; over 30 varieties; a key plant for monarch butterflies (which not surprisingly are known as milkweed butterflies); American ladies, and other butterflies also love milkweed, as well as beneficial bees and pollinating wasps; the nectar is so sweet it was once used by Native Americans as a sweetener

Passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnate) – also called maypop, purple passionflower, true passionflower, wild apricot, and wild passion vine; vigorous native perennial; intricate lavender and white flowers from July to September; produces edible fruit that tastes similar to guava; many butterflies use passionflower as a host plant, including: gulf fritillary, zebra longwing, crimson-patch longwing, and red-banded hairstreak; drought tolerant; can be invasive

 Pentas (Pentas lanceolata) or Egyptian star flower or Egyptian starcluster – annual; pink, magenta, lilac, or less commonly red or white; one of the best butterfly attracting plants and, in the red ‘New Look Red’ version, attracts hummingbirds as well

Red salvia (Salvia splendens) ‘Faye Chapel’ or “Patio red’ – annual; vigorous, fast grower; a butterfly and hummingbird magnet; prefers afternoon shade and good drainage; cut back occasionally to promote bushiness

Rue or common rue (Ruta graveolens) also called herb-of-grace – a hardy evergreen perennial, herb, and ornamental plant; one of the oldest garden plants; a host plant for the caterpillar of the largest U.S. butterfly: the black swallowtail and also for the Old World swallowtail; has been used as a medicinal herb and as an insect repellent; most cats dislike the smell

 Siberian wallflower (Erysimum x marshallii) – evergreen perennial; fragrant orange flowers; full sun to partial shade; bloom times mid-spring, late spring/early summer; parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten; attractive to bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds

 Spider milkweed (Asclepias riridis) – native perennial; white, yellowish green with purple accented flowers; blooms May to July; many butterflies use this plant as an early nectar choice and good choice of food for early monarchs

 Summer snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia) – annual; white, pink, blue, lavender and purple flowers; long, 4-6 week flowering season; attracts butterflies and hummingbirds; is a good bedding plant or as filler in containers; deadheading is not necessary, but cutting will encourage more growth

Verbena – also called purpletop vervain (Verbena bonariensis) – annual; a monarch butterfly and checkered skipper butterfly favorite

Vinca (Vinca major) - also called creeping myrtle, periwinkle flower, big leaf periwinkle, and blue periwinkle – rigorous perennial trailing vine; blue-lavender flowers in the spring and intermittently throughout summer; especially loved by the gulf fritillary butterfly; drought and poor-soil tolerant; can be invasive

Wild black cherry tree (Prunus serotina) – host plant for swallowtails, coral hairsteaks, and red-spotted purple butterflies as well as cecropia moths; can grow to 70 feet so plant accordingly, however also can be grown in a container

Zinnias (Heliantheae angustifolia or elegans hybrid) ’Profusion’ dwarf variety - an annual in the sunflower/daisy family; Lisa favors the orange, white, and apricot colors, but zinnia can also be found in chartreuse, lilac, purple, red, or yellow; this variety more resistant to powdery mildew than other varieties; swallowtail, orange sulfur, silver-spotted skipper, Western tiger swallowtail, and painted lady butterflies love them

Zinnia-Zowie! yellow flame  (Helianthaea elegans) - annual; gorgeous magenta-orange center with yellow tipped petal; heat-loving plant; blooms during the summer when many flowers are finished: can bloom July through Thanksgiving; long-lasting cut flower