There’s been a lot of discussion this week about the best native nectar plants for Monarchs as an alternative to the invasive Butterfly Bush (Buddleia or Buddleja, depending on who’s spelling it), so I thought it would be a great idea to gather together some suggestions for you.
Garden plants fall along a continuum for wildlife gardeners:
Best Plants for Wildlife Gardens
The best plants for Monarchs and other butterflies, as well as all other wildlife in your garden will be locally native to your area. These native plants have a relationship with wildlife that spans thousands of years, contribute to ecosystem services, and provide multiple functions for many species of wildlife. Many indigenous plants are also larval host plants for many species, and many other insects have a variety of uses for them.
Neutral Plants for Wildlife Gardens
Some exotic (non-native introduced plants) ornamental plants do provide some nectar for Monarchs and other butterflies, as well as native bees. But they are not larval host plants for any butterflies and provide no other ecosystem services.
Dangerous, or Caution Needed, Plants for Wildlife Gardens (and the surrounding environment)
Some plants have escaped from our gardens and are now running rampant through our natural ecosystems, destroying native habitat for many species of wildlife. These invasive plants block out the native plants upon which butterflies and other wildlife are dependent.
Butterfly Bush has been listed as an invasive plant in more than 20 states, and it’s only a matter of time until it becomes listed in other states as well.
As gardeners we are each responsible for the impact that invasive plants have beyond the borders of our own gardens. And there are much better native alternatives that do not cause harm to surrounding ecosystems, are larval host plants for other butterflies, and provide many ecosystem services.
Best Nectar Plants for Monarchs and Other Butterflies
The best nectar plants for Monarchs and other butterflies are going to depend on where you live. Each ecoregion has specific native plants that are well adapted to local conditions.
The Pollinator Partnership has created an excellent series of guides to determine the native plants that will provide for the needs of butterflies throughout their entire lifecycle. Head over there right now and enter your zip code to download the guide to nectar plants for your region.
For example, here’s the guide to the best native plants for pollinators in southeastern Pennsylvania where I live.
Let’s take a look at some suggestions from my team members for the best native nectar plants for Monarchs and other butterflies in their regions.
Vincent Vizachero, Maryland:
- Eupatorium for our area for sure: joe pye, of course, but also boneset and thoroughwort
- Zizia aurea
- geranium maculatum
- Monarda bradburiana, if its native to your area: early blooming for Monarda
- natives from the Caprifoliaceae family (diervilla, lonicera, sambucus, viburnum, etc.)
Loret T. Setters, Florida
- Bidens alba
- Eupatorium spp.
- Lachnanthes caroliniana (Carolina Redroot)
- Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum var. lanceolatum)
Ursula Vernon, North Carolina
- starry rosinweed if people have the space for it, full of swallowtails, and it lasts forever
- Mountain mint, any variety.
- Agastache, particularly the cultivars of A. foeniculum.
- I’ve had good luck with seashore mallow (which is adorable) but it’s a bit more obscure
Susan J. Tweit, Colorado
For my semi-arid high-desert Southern Rockies these are my top picks:
- Aesclepias speciosa
- Asclepias tuberosa
- Agastache rupestris
- any of the native asters
- Chrysothamnus nauseous
- Cleome serrulata
- Penstemon strictus
Ellen Honeycutt, Georgia
Janet Harrison, Toronto, Canada
Jesse Elwert Peters, New York
- The Ironweeds bloom for a long time
- Ageratum for the late blooms
- New England Aster
Debbie Roberts, Connecticut
- Lobelia cardinalis and L. siphilitica
- Monadra didyma and M. fistulosa
- Cimicifuga racemosa
- Liatris spicata
Heather Holm, Minnesota
Ellen Sousa, Massachussetts
- Late Season Nectar for Beneficial Insects
- Fall Flowering Plants for Fall Feeding Stations
Kelly Brenner, Washington
Carole Sevilla Brown, Pennsylvania
I’m going to pack my Ecosystem Garden with as many larval host plants for butterflies as I can squeeze in there. Many of these provide abundant nectar for Monarchs and other butterflies throughout the year. Providing as many ecosystem services as I can with each plant is a priority.
Here’s my best native plants wish list:
- Black Cherry–supports 456 Lepidoptera species, including Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Coral Hairstreak, Striped Hairstreak, Red-spotted Purple, Cecropia moth, Promethea Moth, and Hummingbird Clearwing
- Blueberries–used by 294 species, including Brown Elfin, Spring Azure, and Striped Hairstreak
- Milkweeds–many butterflies in addition to Monarchs nectar at this larval host plant for Monarchs, so I’m packing in as many Asclepias as I can
- Goldenrod (Solidago), support 115 species. 125 Goldenrod species occur throughout the US. Goldenrod is used by many insects and spiders and birds who feed on the seeds and insects. No autumn garden is complete without several species of goldenrod bending in the breeze.
- Aster (Aster), support 112 species. This is a huge family, with species that thrive in prairie, meadow, pasture, roadside, and woodland environments. There are both spring and fall blooming species which means that you should choose a wide variety of species. Try to avoid the cultivars and opt instead for true native species. The asters provide abundant pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies and are a wonderful choice for any wildlife garden.
- Sunflower (Helianthus), support 73 species. When thinking of sunflowers, it is common to call the large-headed, many-seeded annual cultivars to mind, but there are many native perennial species as well. The plants provide lots of nectar and pollen, and the seeds are eaten by many birds and other wildlife. Try a mix of native perennial species with several annual species as well.
- Joe Pye (Eupatorium), support 42 species. Joe Pye is one of the best native alternatives for invasive Butterfly Bush, and includes Boneset, Snakeroot, and many species of Joe Pye. They produce a lot of nectar and pollen, making them an excellent choice for a pollinator garden.
Now It’s Your Turn
You can find many of these native nectar plants by visiting your local native plant nursery. Not sure if you have a native plant nursery near you? Use the Find Native Plants resource page to locate your state and support your local nursery.
What are your favorite native nectar plants for Monarchs and other butterflies? Please share by leaving a comment below.
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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