Gardening for Butterflies
Gardens are an increasingly important refuge for many of our native butterflies and moths. Adult butterflies visit flowers to obtain nectar, a sweet, sugary substance which they suck from the flower using their proboscis. They feed on a wide range of flowers. Many species will also feed on other sweet substances such as rotting fruits.
The plants listed below will help to attract butterflies to your garden. For best results, flowers should be grown in sunny, sheltered places.
Many of the plants listed are unsuitable for the larvae of butterflies. To be sure of seeing butterflies regularly in your garden, it is worth leaving a small area of your garden free to grow the larval food plants. The larvae (caterpillars) eat leaves, usually of wild plants... some of which most people would class as 'weeds'.
A really important larval plant is the Common Stinging Nettle. The Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell all need Stinging Nettles to breed. Nettles need to be growing in a sunny location to encourage egg laying.
Thistles and Cabbages...
You could also encourage Thistles for the Painted Lady, grow Cabbages and Nasturtiums for Cabbage White and Small White butterflies. Garlic Mustard and Lady's Smock will encourage Orange-tip and Green-veined White and Alder Buckthorn for the Brimstone butterfly. The larvae of Holly Blues, not surprisingly feed on Holly in the spring but need Ivy for their caterpillars in late summer.
Preferred food plants by species
The following list provides details of known adult butterfly food plants which each species has been reported to nectar from.
Brimstone / African Marigold, Asclepsis, Aubretia, Beans, Dandelion, Dianthus, Lavender, Nepeta, Phlox drummondii, Phlox paniculata, Primrose, Primula denticulata, Teasel, Thistle, Valerian.
Comma / Beetroot, Bramble, Buddleia, Helenium, Ivy, Plum, Privet, Pear, Scabious, Sedum, Thistle, Valerian.
Common Blue / Bird's-foot Trefoil, Bramble, Buddleia, Chrysanthemums, Clover, Cornflower, Echinops, Erigeron, Hyssop, Knapweed, Lavender, Michaelmas Daisy, Mint, Nepeta, Phlox drumnondii, Rosebay willow herb, Sedum, Thistle, Verbena bonariensis.
Gatekeeper / Aster sinensis, Bramble, Buddleia, Candytuft, Chrysanthemums, Corn Marigold, Cornus variegata, Hebe, Helichrysum, Heliotrope, Marguerite, Marjoram, Mayweed, Mignonette, Mint, Nepeta, Thistle, Thyme, Valerian, Yarrow.
Green-veined White / Aubretia, Aquilegia alpina, Buddleia, Forget-me-not, Heliotrope, Honesty, Lavender, Michaelmas Daisy, Nepeta, Strawberry.
Holly Blue / Forget-me-not, Holly, Ivy, Prunus.
Large Skipper / Feverfew, Valerian.
Large White / African marigold, Aubretia, Buddleia, Calliopsis, Ceratostigma willmottiae, Dahlia, Daisy, Dianthus, Echium, Hebe, Heliotrope, Inula, Ivy, Lantana, Lavender, Lilac, Limonium, Lobelia, Marigold, Mignonette, Nepeta, Privet, Sweet Rocket, Teasel, Valerian, Verbena bonariensis.
Marbled White / Buddleia, Campanula lactiflora, Candytuft, Delphinium, Erigeron, Nepeta, Thistle.
Meadow Brown / African Marigold, Bramble, Buddleia, Campanula lactiflora, Chrysanthemum maximum "Esther Reed", Heliotrope, Inula, Lavender, Marjoram, Nepeta, Phlox spp., Privet, Thistle, Thyme, Valerian.
Orange-tip / Aubretia, Cheiranthus, Forget-me-not, Garlic Mustard, Honesty, Lady's Smock, Sweet Rocket.
Painted Lady / Buddleia, Sedum.
Peacock / African Marigold, Ageratum, Alyssum, Bramble, Buddleia, B. globosa, Ceratostigma willmottiae, Coltsfoot, Cornflower, Dahlia, Daisy, Dandelion, Dianthus, Echinops, Inula, Lantana, Liatris, Ligularia dentata, Limonium, Marigold, Marjoram, Privet, Scabious, Sedum, Teasel, Thistle, Valerian, Virginia creeper, Water mint.
Red Admiral / Buddleia, Dahlia, Fuschia, Hebe, Hydrangea, Ivy, Michaelmas Daisy, Plum, Apple, Pear, Sedum, Yarrow.
Ringlet / Bramble, Dianthus, Nepeta, Salvia.
Small Copper / Daisy, Helichrysum, Inula, Knapweed, Lavender, Michaelmas Daisy, Phlox paniculata, Privet, Rosebay Willowherb, Sedum, Thistle.
Small Heath / Thyme
Small Skipper / Buddleia, Cheiranthus, Cornflower, Knapweed, Lavender, Lobelia, Marguerite, Salvia, Scabious, Toadflax, Tufted Vetch, Valerian.
Small Tortoiseshell / African Marigold, Alyssum, Asclepsis, Aster amellus, A. sinensis, Bramble, Buddleia, B. globosa, Candytuft, Ceratostigma willmottiae, Cheiranthus, Cineraria maritima, Coltsfoot, Cornflower, Corn Marigold, Dahlia, Dandelion, Dianthus, Echinacea purpurea, Echium, Escallonia, Chrysanthemum maximum "Ester Reed", French Marigold, Gazania, Hebe, Inula, Lantana, Ligularia dentata, Limonium, Marigold, Michaelmas Daisy, Nepeta, Phlox drummondii, Privet, Sallow, Sedum, Thyme, Thistle, Serphyllum coccineus, Valerian, Virginia creeper, Wallflower (perennial), Water Mint.
Small White / Alyssum, Aubretia, Bramble, Buddleia, Calliopsis, Campanula lactiflora, Ceratostigma willmottiae, Chrysanthemum, Echium, Godetia, Hebe, Heliotrope, Ivy, Lantana, Lavender, Limonium, Lobelia, Marigold, Mignonette, Nepeta, Poppy, Radish, Sweet Rocket, Thistle, Valerian, Verbena bonariensis, Virginian stock.
Speckled Wood / Bramble, Marigold.
Wall Brown / Forget-me-not, French Marigold, Inula, Heliotrope, Lavender, Marigold, Nepeta, Privet, Rosebay Willow herb, Sedum, Valerian.