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Glendale Public Library
Plants for Butterflies

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Two sources of information will be helpful in learning more about Butterflies in the garden: the booklet “Desert Butterfly Gardening”, published by the Arizona Native Plant Society and the Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute; and the book “Native Gardens for Dry Climates”, by Sally and Andy Wasowski. 

In a butterfly garden you should provide both nectar sources and larval food plants. Adult butterflies feed on the nectar of certain flowers, while the caterpillars feed on specific plants known as “ larval food plants”. Try to combine plants to provide a year-round source of nectar, if possible. Limit or eliminate the use of pesticides and other chemicals in the garden, as they can kill caterpillars and adult butterflies. You can expect butterflies to be most active during ideal conditions: Sunny, calm days, when the temperatures range from 65 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. They seem to prefer early mornings and evenings during the hot summer months. On the following list we have included the “butterfly plants” that we grow, as well as a few others that you may be able to locate elsewhere. 

Genus species Common Name Type Notes
Acacia angustissima Fern Acacia Shrub Larval Food
Acacia greggii Catclaw Acacia Tree Adult Food
Ageratum corymbosum Butterfly Mist Shrub Shrub Adult Food
Aloysia gratissima Bee Bush Shrub Adult Food
Asclepias liniaris Pineleaf Milkweed Shrub Adult & Larval Food
Asclepias subulata Milkweed Shrub Adult & Larval Food
Baccharis sarothroides Indian Broom Shrub Adult Food
Baileya multiradiata Desert Marigold Annual Adult Food
Berlandiera lyrata Chocolate Flower Perennial Adult Food
Buddleja davidii Butterfly Bush Shrub Adult Food
Buddleja marrubifolia Butterfly Bush Shrub Adult Food
Caesalpinea pulcherrima Red Bird of Paradise Shrub Adult Food
Calliandra californica Fairy Duster Shrub Adult & Larval Food
Calliandra eriophylla Baja Fairy Duster Shrub Larval Food
Celtis pallida Desert Hackberry Large shrub Larval Food
Celtis reticulata Hackberry Tree Larval Food
Chilopsis linearis Desert Willow Tree Adult Food
Chrysactinia mexicana - Shrub Adult Food
Chrysothamnus nauseosus Rabbit Brush Shrub Adult Food
Cordia parvifolia Littleleaf Cordia Shrub Adult Food
Dalea frutescens Sierra Negra™ Dalea Shrub Larval Food
Dalea greggii Trailing Dalea Groundcover Adult & Larval Food
Dalea pulchra Dalea Shrub Adult & Larval Food
Dyssodia pentachaeta Golden Dyssodia Sm Perennial Adult Food
Encelia farinosa Brittlebush Shrub Adult Food
Ericameria laricifolia Turpentine Bush Shrub Adult Food
Erigeron divergens Buckwheat Perennial Adult Food
Eriogonum fasciculatum - - Adult Food
Eupatorium greggii Boothill™ Eupatorium Small Shrub Adult Food
Fallugia paradoxa Apache Plume Shrub Adult Food
Hyptis emoryi Desert Lavender Shrub Adult Food
Lantana montevidensis Trailing Lantana Groundcover Adult & Larval Food
Leucaena retusa Golden Leadball Tree Adult Food
Leucophyllum spp. Texas Sages Shrub Adult Food
Lycium spp. Wolfberry Large Shrub Adult Food
Lysiloma thornberi Feather Bush Tree Adult Food
Melampodium leucanthum Blackfoot Daisy Perennial Adult Food
Oenothera caespitosa Evening Primrose Perennial Adult Food
Pasiflora foetida Passion Flower Vine Larval Food
Penstemon spp. Penstemon Perennial Larval Food
Plumbago scandens Summer Snow™ Plumbago Shrub Adult Food
Salvia clevelandii - Shrub Adult Food
Salvia greggii Autumn Sage Shrub Adult Food
Sphaeralcea ambigua Globe Mallow Perennial Adult & Larval  Food
Tagetes lemmonii Mt. Lemmon Marigold Perennial Adult Food
Verbena goodingii Desert Verbena Perennial Adult Food
Vitex agnus-castus Monk's Pepper Tree Adult Food
Zinnia acerosa Desert Zinnia Perennial Adult Food


1. Provide a variety of plants that feed larval and adult butterflies. Food plants need to provide for two different stages of the butterfly's life: larval and adult. Therefore, it is important to have an adequate mix of plants that will support larvae and other plants that will be available for the adults. 

2. Emphasize massing of plants. Massing should be relatively greater in butterfly gardens compared to bird gardens. This is due to the greater recognition factor of plant masses rather than a singular plant by adult butterflies. Use of accent plants (unique shape such as agaves or yuccas) with the many masses can create effective contrast and interest for the garden visitor. 

3. Provide sunny, wind-protected locations. Butterflies are cold-blooded and need sunlight to warm the muscles they use to fly, and protection from wind when feeding. 

4. Provide a puddle. Butterflies require a shallow puddle or moist soil for water. A slow dripping emitter near a water-loving plant can fulfill this need.

© Webmaster & Author George Hull Last Update August 01, 2003