Plants for Butterflies, Our Top Picks

Plants for Butterflies

Master Gardener Top Picks:
Plants for Butterflies!

Text: Amanda Carrigan

Who doesn’t like seeing butterflies in the garden, fluttering here and there, and daintily alighting on a flower to sip the nectar? But they’re not just ornamental – butterflies and moths play a role in pollinating the plants they visit. And of course we all know they are caterpillars before becoming butterflies or moths, and perhaps cursed at those caterpillars eating our plants. But those caterpillars (and other insects) are a boon to many birds and some bees and wasps, serving as a food source for their offspring. So by planting things that attract butterflies, you are helping insect pollinators and birds as well!

We asked the Ottawa Master Gardeners what their favourite plants for butterflies were, and got a wide variety of responses – there’s certain to be at least one that will do well in anyone’s garden!

Top pick overall:

Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata

Shows Asclepias incarnata flower with sphinx moth

Photo: Amanda C.

A sphinx moth sipping from a swamp milkweed flower

Native to Ontario. A tall plant with pink or white flowers. Despite the name, it will do well in average soil, and likes sun. Serves as a larval host plant for the monarch butterfly, and is visited by other pollinators as well.


Borage, Borago officinalis & Zinnia

Monarch Butterfly on Zinnias

Photo: iStock Photos : JillLang

Monarch butterfly resting on a zinnia.

Borage is perhaps more of a herb than an ornamental, but the blue flowers are attractive and edible. Annual zinnias come in a wide range of colours and sizes, but for best butterfly and pollinator results, choose more open, single flowers over highly double pompom types.

Other plants for butterflies:


  • Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
  • Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)
  • Chokeberry (Aronia)
  • Seven sons flower (Heptacodium miconoides)
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)
Shows a butterfly on Heptacodium flowers

Photo: Nancy M.

Butterfly on Heptacodium miconoides flowers.

Caterpillar feeding on dill

Photo: iStock Photos : ruthanburke

A swallowtail caterpillar feeding on dill.

Herbs and annuals:

  • Dill (Anethum gravolens)
  • Sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata)
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  • Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
  • Oregano (Origanum spp.)
  • Savory (Satureja hortensis and S.)
  • Cosmos
  • Heliotropium
  • Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia)
  • Lantana (Lantana camara)
  • Common Marigold (Calendula)
  • Argentinian Vervain (Verbena bonariensis)

Perennials and grasses:

  • Joe-pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
  • Wild bergamots (Monarda fistulosa and Monarda didyma)
  • Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Canada columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
  • Ipecac (Gillenia trifoliata)
  • Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginiana)
  • Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
  • Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
  • White trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
  • Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
  • Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Flat-Topped White Aster (Doellingeria umbellata)
  • Blazing star (Liatris spicata)
  • Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
  • Evening primrose/sundrops (Oenethera spp.)
  • Cutleaf rudbeckia (Rudbeckia laciniata)
  • Zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis)
  • New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
  • Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)
  • Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta)
  • Sneezeweed (Helenium)
  • Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
shows a butterfly on sundrops blooms

Photo: Nancy M.

A swallowtail butterfly on sundrops (Oenethera fruticosa)