There’s something so enchanting about seeing butterflies flutter around your garden! You can encourage butterflies to visit your garden by providing an assortment of nectar- and pollen-rich plants. Butterflies will visit a large variety of plants but tend to prefer those with umbel shaped flowers, which provide them a place to stand while collecting nectar. Generally, any composite flower (those in the aster family, Asteraceae) is a good choice. Many weeds, including dandelion, nettle, plantain, and thistle, can also be left for butterflies to enjoy.
Acmon Blue on Eriogonum
In addition to providing these food sources for adult butterflies, you can encourage butterflies to breed in your yard. Plant some of the larval host plants on which butterflies lay their eggs. The caterpillars then munch on these plants until they are ready to form their chrysalises. Be prepared though – these plants will get eaten! You can plant host plants away from the rest of your garden to prevent caterpillars from munching on other plants, but there’s no need to be too careful, most species will only feed on specific plants. For best results, plant your host plants and nectar plants close together or mixed in the garden.
Butterflies also like to bask in the sun during the cool mornings. Provide them a place to do this by placing some large, flat rocks in a sunny spot. You can also provide butterflies with a place to drink water. While they cannot drink from open water, filling a shallow container with wet sand will allow them to perch and drink happily.
Anise Swallowtail on Buddleja
Nectar- and Pollen-Rich Plants for Butterflies:
Asters – Aster spp.
Black Eyed Susan – Rudbeckia spp.
Blackberry – Rubus spp.
Buckeye - Aesculus californica
Bur Marigold – Bidens spp.
Butterfly Bush – Buddleia spp.
California Lilac – Ceanothus spp.
Cape Plumbago – Plumbago spp.
Catmint – Nepeta spp.
Coneflower – Echinacea purpurea
Cornflower – Centaura spp.
Floss Flower – Ageratum houstoniana
Fleabane – Erigeron spp.
Globe Thistle – Echinops spp.
Hollyhock – Alcea rosea
Jupiter’s Beard – Centranthus ruber
Lavender – Lavandula spp.
Lilac – Syringa spp.
Marigold – Tagetes spp.
Mexican Sunflower – Tithonia spp.
Milkweed – Asclepias
Mint – Mentha spp.
Onion family – Allium spp.
Privet – Ligustrum spp.
Sage – Salvia spp. (especially S. clevelandii)
Sunflower – Helianthus spp.
Sweet Alyssum – Lobularia maritima
Thyme – Thymus spp.
Common California Butterflies and their Larval Host Plants:
Acmon Blue – Buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.) and Lupines (Lupinus spp.)
Admirals, Mourning Cloak, and Western Tiger Swallowtail – Poplars and Aspens (Populus spp.), Willows (Salix spp.)
Anise Swallowtail – many species in the parsley family (Apiaceae) including parsley, fennel, and dill
California Tortoiseshell – California lilacs (Ceanothus spp.)
Checkered Skipper, Painted Lady, West Coast Lady – many plants in the Mallow family, including globemallows (Spaeralcea), mallows (Malva), hollyhocks (Alcea), and velvet-leafs (Abutilon)
Checkerspots – Beardtongues (Penstemon spp.)
Echo Spring Azure – Buckeye (Aesculus californica), Toyon (Heteromeles), Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica), Blackberries (Rubus spp.)
Field Crescents – Aster spp.
Gray Hairstreak – plants from a variety of families, most often from the pea family (Fabaceae) and mallow family (Malva)
Gulf Fritillary – Passion Vines (Passiflora spp.)
Monarch – Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.)
Pipevine Swallowtail – Pipevines (Aristolochia spp.)