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List of Common Nectar Plants for Texas Butterflies

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Prepared for Marshall Grain by WaterWise Vistas Landscaping


Adult butterflies need to drink flower nectar to survive. Incorporating these plants into your landscape will ensure that there are nectar sources available at different times of the year, which will improve their chances of survival. Here's a list of common nectar plants for Texas butterflies.


Nectar Plants for Texas Butterflies



Asters, aster oblongifolius, (Fall, Hardy Blue) –3’ x 3’. Full sun. Deciduous. This plant is one of the last to bloom in the fall when most other plants have retired for the season. It is sure to attract the butterflies. Aster is greek for “star” which perfectly describes the purple flowers that cover the plant. As the plant ages it loses its lower leaves, by trimming it is forced to bush out. Should be trimmed as you would a chrysanthemum by trimming a 1/3 of the plant periodically until July then you will leave it alone. After the second hard freeze you can trim the dead stalks to the ground. Drought tolerant.


Black Foot Daisy – 2’ x 2’. Full sun/partial shade. Wonderful low-growing perennial that begins blooming in March and continues until first frost. Will thrive where little else will, making it a good choice where reflective heat is an issue. It has a wonderful weeping habit but if put too close to a ledge it may pull the roots out of the soil because of its weight. Although a short lived plant made even shorter by over watering, it is worth mentioning that if you drive a garden pin down through the crown area to anchor the plant it may survive longer. It is well worth adding to the garden for its tireless display of white flowers all summer long and delightful honey scent. It tends to look a little ratty in September but with some pruning it will quickly rebound and look lush and full of blooms. It requires little fertilizer and less water. If you are lucky it will reseed out into the garden.


Bonariensis
Bonariensis is a common nectar plant for Texas butterflies

Bonariensis (Verbena Bonariensis)– 3’ x 3’. Full sun. Great “see through” plant! Produces purple flowerets on stiff upright stems throughout the season much to the delight of butterflies and bees. Does not like to be watered from overhead and will get a fungus much like zinnias. If this happens you can cut this back to 2” and it will spring back up and be blooming shortly. You may also want to cut it back after it has flowered and before it begins to seed out (flower heads turn a dull purple). Will reseed where not mulched. Cut back after frost.


Butterfly Bush, Buddleia Davidii, (Nanho Blue) – 5’ x 5’. Full sun. Large deciduous shrub with arching limbs. Very fragrant 6-8” flower heads cover the bush from July through September. It is very attractive to butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Prune back hard (1/3 of its original height) in spring. Pinching back new growth will promote more branching. Drought tolerant when established.


Butterfly Weed—(Asclepias) 2’ x 2’. Full sun. Adds punch to the landscape with vibrant orange flowers that form an umbrella over the stalk from late spring through summer. This plant is attractive to the Swallowtail, Monarch, Aphrodite and Fritillary butterfly as a nectar source. It is host plant to the swallowtail caterpillar so beware of plucking off caterpillars on this plant; you could be destroying future generations of butterflies. Butterfly Weed is also considered an aphid “trap” plant. It will not attract more aphids to the garden; instead it will attract them to itself leaving other plants aphid free. A strong spray of water will eliminate most of the aphids. Will tolerate dry, infertile soils but prefers occasional watering.


Butterfly Weed—(Tropical)—36” x 24”. Full sun. This butterfly weed begins blooming in mid-summer and goes throughout the rest of the season until the first frost. Its blooms are orange and red and are attractive to all butterflies and hummingbirds. The monarch use this plant as a host for larvae so if you see striped caterpillars, (not green) they are future Monarch butterflies. Butterfly Weed is also considered an aphid “trap” plant. It will not attract more aphids to the garden; instead it will attract them to itself leaving other plants aphid free. A strong spray of water will eliminate most of the aphids. Will tolerate dry, infertile soils but prefers occasional watering.


Calylophus – Evergreen – Full sun. 6”-8” x 24”. Soft textured plant loaded with pale yellow flowers from spring to frost. Good for rock gardens and borders. Does not tolerate heavy watering or fertilizer. Does well in lean soil of rock gardens and xeric landscapes or where reflected heat is an issue. Responds well to a trim in early spring to promote heavy blooming and create dense growth allowing it to look nice all year long.


Candy Lily – Deciduous. Full sun/partial shade. 2’ x 3’. If you are not familiar with the plant you will think you are looking at an Iris…that is until it blooms! The blooms begin in Mid-June and go through July. The colors vary from orange to yellow and purple, many sporting bold spots on the flower petals. It prefers afternoon shade in our area but will withstand full sun. Can be propagated by seed.


Coneflower (Magnus) – 36” x 18”. Sun/partial shade. The Magnus is a large growing coneflower with purple flowers that instead of folding flat as is typical of most coneflowers remains flat. Prefers consistent moisture in well drained soil. It takes this plant three years in the garden to perform but once it does it will become a favorite of yours as much as it is the butterflies that flock to it. After a frost you can trim the dead stalks back.


Coreopsis (Tickseed)
Coreopsis (Tickseed)

Coreopsis (Moonbeam) 18” x 2’. Full sun/partial shade. This coreopsis has beautiful fern-like, lime green foliage that is a great contrast to its small yellow daisy flowers. It springs up from the ground in early spring with flowers following in June and continuing until first frost. Very dependable perennial that is great for naturalizing an area of the garden but behaves itself nicely in a border. Maintenance free.


Dianthus (First Love) – 18” x 18”. Full sun. Evergreen perennial with a mounding effect of blue green foliage that looks good even in winter. The fragrant, showy flowers begin in May and continue until first frost. The blooms range from white to pink to lavender rose. Great plant with low maintenance required.


Four Nerve Daisy – 6” x 8”. Sun. Cheery addition to any xeric garden. A nice evergreen perennial that stays in almost constant bloom. Yellow flowers on straight, slim stalks. Good substitution for Calylophus or where reflective heat is an issue. Needs little attention to be a great addition to any xeric or rock garden. Overwatering is sure to kill it.


Gaura (Snow Mountain) 2’H x 3’W. Full sun. This is a unique Gaura due to its lateral branching which creates a denser flowering plant. The white flowers are solid in color and show up well in a white garden. They are good for specimen, group or container planting. They, as well as all gaura, require good drainage.

Butterfly nectar plant.
Guara

Hyssop, (Blue Fortune) – 3’x 4’. Full sun/partial shade. Beautiful lavender bottle brush blooms cover this hyssop beginning in June and going on through the fall. As flowers mature they will develop a light mint scent. This plant is sure to bring the butterflies and bees into your garden. It does best with some afternoon shade and consistent moisture. This is deciduous and is late breaking dormancy preferring to wait for the hot weather. No known problems other than availability.


Kidneywood – 8’- 15’ x 6’-8’. Full sun. Deciduous. This is a small, shrubby tree with multi-trunks. The leaves are finely textured reminiscent of a mimosa with an orange scent when bruised. The white, fuzzy flowers bloom from April through November after rains have a wonderfully, sweet fragrance that fills the air. It is drought tolerant but does best with an occasional drink through our dry spells. Attractive to bees and butterflies.


Lantana (Horrida) 2’ x 2’. Full sun/partial shade. An upright lantana native to Texas, it has yellow and orange flowers. It begins blooming mid-spring and continues until first frost. Cut back after frost to 2”. It will grow back from the roots. Needs little care.


Mexican Mint Marigold – 3’ x 2’. Full sun. Perennial herb with anise flavor. Although it is a marigold this plant is not susceptible to spider mites. Late fall bloomer with gold colored blossoms. Great paired up with other fall bloomers like fall asters. Do not fertilize too much or you will get large plant with no blooms! It can be trimmed much like chrysanthemums to bush it out and manage the height of the plant. Cut back to 2” after frost. Can be used to make teas or in place of tarragon.


Passion Vine (Blue Crown) 12’-15’. Full sun/partial shade. Evergreen. This passion vine is a vigorous grower, blooming throughout the summer, bearing flowers that resemble flying saucers! They are the host plant for the Fritillary butterfly so it you see some hairy caterpillars on your vine it is a future butterfly munching away. Any major pruning or detangling should be done in late winter, early spring but minor trimming can be done at any time.


Phlox (summer, unspecified) – 2-3’ x 3’. Full sun/shade. Versatile perennial with large variety of colors to choose. Breaks ground early in spring with long stalks and medium green leaves attached to the stem opposite each other. Large cluster of flowers are borne on top of each stem. Will bloom either in full sun or light shade, if in the shade it will be later to bloom and flower clusters and plant will be smaller. Very fragrant, attracts butterflies.



Rudbeckia (Goldsturm) -- Butterfly nectar plant.
Rudbeckia (Goldsturm)

Rudbeckia (Goldsturm) -- 2’ x 2’. Full sun/partial shade. Evergreen. The golden yellow petals surround a black cone and smother the plant from mid-July through October. It will tolerate full sun but appreciates afternoon shade. It is a reseeder so deadhead it if you don’t want volunteers. Although it is drought tolerant it does not require good drainage and will tolerate periodical flooding.


Sage (Lyre Leaf) - 1 ½” x 1”. Full /partial shade. A native groundcover that makes a good substitute for Ajuga. Light blue flowers appear in the spring and are enjoyed by the butterflies. It requires no special care to thrive in your garden. It is drought tolerant once it is established and is deciduous Salvia, (Indigo Spires) – 4’ x 4’. Full sun/partial shade. A real show stopper and great addition to the garden if you have the room. Continuous violet blooms from April through November attract the butterflies. Indigo Spires will grow and grow eventually sprawling all over the garden due to the weight of the stems. Trimming it periodically will keep it at a more manageable size. It needs to be deadheaded to promote vigorous blooming. Deciduous and will die to the ground with the first frost, it can then be cut to the ground.


Salvia, (May Knight) – 18” x 24”. Full sun. Evergreen. This is a real workhorse in the garden. I have had my bloom into December when winters are mild. The flowers are a deep violet spire that rise above the rosettes of leaves in March. With deadheading this plant seems to never be out of bloom, it is one of my favorites for constant color. Shear hard after first flush to rejuvenate and soon it will be back in bloom!


Scabiosa, -- 6” x 12”. Full sun/part shade. Scabiosa is an evergreen perennial with blue or pink flowers that look similar to a pincushion and hence it’s common name of pincushion plant. It is one of the first to begin blooming in spring and has been known to bloom year round during warm winters. The butterflies flock to this plant. Although it will tolerate drought conditions it looks its best with consistent moisture. Divide clumps every few years to rejuvenate the plant.


Verbascum – 2’ x 2’ Full sun/part shade. Verbascum lends a bit of romance to the garden. An old fashioned plant with velvet-like leaves that rise out of gray/green rosettes. Tall stalks shoot up in the spring and show off beautiful flowers in colors of coral, pink or violet. With deadheading it will enjoy a long period of blooms. It adds vertical structure to the garden. Prefers well drained soil and is drought tolerant.


Verbena (Moss) – 2-4” x 24”. Full sun/part sun. Evergreen groundcover with delicate fern-like leaves and crowns of violet/purple flowers. The heaviest blooming occurs in spring but sporadically blooms until frost. Foliage may turn red in very cold temps, dying to the ground but will come back following spring. Very drought tolerant but looks best when given additional water throughout the hottest part of the summer. Needs good drainage.


Verbena, (Purple Homestead) – 8” x 3’. Full sun. Evergreen groundcover with bold, dark purple flowers throughout the season beginning in March and going strong through fall. It is drought and heat tolerant and does well in many soils but requires good drainage to thrive. It does have a tendency to “travel” through the garden, dying out in spots and spreading into others. Makes a good combination with orange.

Yarrow -- Butterfly nectar plant.
Yarrow

Yarrow, (Paprika) 18”- 24”H. Full sun. It has gray-green leaves in clumps resembling delicate ferns. In April blooms rise above foliage on strong bare stems. The flowers open a rich red, fading to a brick red and ultimately turning to a terracotta color. Remove old flower stalks after they turn brown and the plants will rebloom in fall. Needs good drainage otherwise roots are sure to rot. Drought tolerant. Butterfly nectar plant.


Zexmenia – 2’ x 2-3’. Full sun/shade. This deciduous plant will bloom nicely in either sun or shade. The prolific blooms are single golden yellow flowers resembling small sunflowers. The foliage is somewhat rough. Its bloom cycle begins in March and goes throughout the summer. Bees and butterflies love this plant.


Host Plants

Dill – 2’ – 5’. An annual herb that can reseed. Its’ ferny leaves and seeds are both used for culinary purposes. Garden dill attracts beneficial insects including bees, parasitic wasps’ and tachinid flies. It is also a spring larvae plant for butterflies. Not a good companion plant with woody perennials such as Salvia Greggi.


Fennel (Bronze) – 3’ – 4’ x 3’. Full sun. Culinary herb. Bronze fennel is a large herb that leaves and seeds are used for cooking everything from fish and tomato sauce to cookies. It is prized for its wonderful licorice taste and scent. Give this one a lot of space because it will certainly get huge! Let it flower only if you want to harvest seeds otherwise keep it trimmed to keep it bushy. It is the host plant to the black swallowtail so if you see green, yellow and black caterpillars on it know that soon they will become beautiful butterflies. If you prize the plant for its landscape qualities plant more than one if you can and transplant your caterpillars onto one. Not a good companion plant with tomatoes.

Curley Parsley is a host plant for some butterflies
Curly Parsley

Parsley (Italian) 10”-12”. Full sun. Italian parsley is the most prized among cooks, believed to be more flavorful. It is a very healthful herb containing calcium, iron, phosphorous, potassium, and magnesium. Grown near roses parsley is thought to improve the scent and health of roses.


Parsley, (Curly) 12” x 12”. Full sun/partial shade. This is a beautiful chartreuse colored parsley with very tight, curly leaves. Trim off flower buds before they open to continue production of leaves. This is a biennial and will need to be replaced. The Swallowtail butterfly hovering over the plant is laying her eggs so consider sharing your parsley with the green, yellow and black caterpillars.


Passion Vine (Blue Crown) 12’-15’. Full sun/partial shade. Evergreen. This passion vine is a vigorous grower, blooming throughout the summer, bearing flowers that resemble flying saucers! They are the host plant for the Fritillary butterfly so it you see some hairy caterpillars on your vine it is a future butterfly munching away. Any major pruning or detangling should be done in late winter, early spring but minor trimming can be done at any time.


Annuals

Black-eyed Susan vine – 5’- 10’. Full sun/partial shade. This annual vine does it all in one season. The dark green vine is good along fences, trellis’, containers and rambling along the ground. The flowers start in mid-summer and go throughout fall. The flowers look like Rudbeckia but are actually trumpet shaped flowers with a deep purple throat. It comes in colors of white, yellow and orange. Prefers well drained soil.


Marigolds –Marigolds are easy to grow and have a long flowering period. African marigolds can reach 30-40” while French marigolds grow to only 8-16”. The scent is strong and repels many garden pests. African are yellow and orange while French are often multi-colored in shades of orange, yellow, mahogany and crimson. They can be sown directly into the garden when danger of frost has past.

Pentas are popular with many butterflies
Pentas are popular with many butterflies

Pentas – 24” x 24”. If you want to attract butterflies to your garden than you want Pentas. They come in many different colors and provide dependable blooms all through the hottest part of our summers. Deadhead any old flowers to keep it blooming.

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