Top 10 Butterfly Nectar Plants

What are the top butterfly nectar plants? People often ask this question as they plan their butterfly gardens. After all, why plant something that isn’t a strong attractant or doesn’t offer rich nectar if you’re limited in space in your yard?

Gulf Fritillaries and Cloudless Sulphur drinking nectar from porterweed

This is a challenge to answer for several reasons.

A) The top nectar plants depends partially on the area you live in your country. For example: Joe Pye Weed is a top nectar plant in some areas while in our garden, we rarely see butterflies drinking from it.  When we visit the mountains in NC, we see butterflies all over Joe Pye Weed.

B) Some plants are invasive or aggressive in some areas of the country while in other areas, it is a struggle to keep them alive for more than a couple of years. Butterfly Bush is an example of a plant in this category. Considered invasive in some states, in southern states where the soil doesn’t freeze, nematodes kill these bushes usually within a couple of years.

C) Native-only gardeners plant only native plants. A list of the top 10 nectar plants may include non-natives. A list of only native nectar plants will leave out some of the top nectar producing plants.  It is a personal decision each of us must make: native only or a mixture of both.

D) Some plants are seasonal bloomers. Small yards would provide more nectar when planned with plants that produce a bit less nectar per bloom yet blooms most of the year rather than only a few weeks of the year.

E) When it comes to butterflies, some plants are more species specific. Flowers with long throats are of use only to butterflies with long proboscises. If a yard is limited in space, plants with shorter throats that make nectar accessible to all butterfly species would be a better choice.

F) Some plants are weeds. Yes, a weed is a plant growing where one doesn’t want it to grow, but some have such undesirable qualities that they are not suitable for a garden. Spanish Needles (Bidens sp) is one such plant. It is a top nectar producing plant but the seed is so horrible that rather than try to remove the seed, many people will throw away the affected garment.

Seed from Spanish Needles
Seed from Spanish Needles

G) Some plants grow only in certain climates. Some great nectar sources in Florida wouldn’t grow long enough to produce enough bloom to make it worth planting in Maine. In return,Lilacs won’t bloom in Florida.

Knowing all this, it is impossible to develop a BEST NECTAR PLANTS list that will be embraced by all gardening types of people, let alone hold true for climates from Maine to Florida to Oregon to Nevada to Texas to South Dakota.

That being said, our favorite top ten nectar plants are the ten first photographed here. None are seasonal although several are controversial and several cannot be grown in the extreme northern states.
1. Tall Porterweed
2. Zinnias
3. Lantana
4. Butterfly Bush
5. Pentas
6. Bottlebrush
7. Blazing Star
8. Mist Flower
9. Milkweed
10. Golden Dewdrop
In addition, other favorites are:
11. Mexican Sunflower
12. Cosmos
13. Scarlet Morning-glory

Some of the top native nectar plants are:
1. Blazing Star
2. Mist Flower
3. Goldenrod
4. Annual Phlox
5. Joe Pye Weed (seasonal bloom – attracts in some areas, not in others)
6. Iron Weed (seasonal bloom)
7. Buttonbush
8. Climbing Aster
9. Milkweed
10. Tick-seed (Coreopsis)