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10 plants for butterflies

Butterflies are among our prettiest garden visitors, but they're dwindling in numbers: according to a Butterfly Conservation report published in 2011, The State of Britain's Butterflies, three-quarters of UK butterflies have shown a 10-year decrease in either their distribution or population levels.

You can you do your bit for butterflies by making them welcome in your garden. Adults feed on nectar, and are especially fond of plants with long tubular flowers - so the more of these you can grow, the better.

Discover 10 plants that butterflies will love, below.


One of the best-known nectar flowers for adult butterflies, Buddleja davidii produces blooms over a number of weeks between summer and autumn. Grow a few varieties to extend the flowering season.

Red valerian

Centranthus ruber performs best in poorer, dry or chalky soils, where it forms a tidy, compact plant and won't be overwhelmed by other, stronger plants. It often flowers early and continues well into midsummer.


Tall, with lots of purple flowers on stiff, wiry stems, Verbena bonariensis can be grown through other plants or in a border on its own. It flowers late in the season and is extremely rich in nectar.


Always go for the old-fashioned pink form of Sedum spectabile, which produces the most nectar when it flowers in autumn. Red varieties tend to be poor in comparison.


As well as being a reliable evergreen shrub, hebes attracts a range of insects - in particular bees and butterflies.

Wild marjoram

Outdoors, Origanum vulgare is best grown as an annual, as it isn't reliably hardy in the UK. The delicate, pink flowers are a treat for butterflies, as well as bees. Plus, the leaves make a delicious addition to dishes.

Common knapweed

If you've created an area for wildflowers in your garden, then Centaurea nigra is a must-have. The bright, violet flowers gracefully dot themselves throughout and will attract a range of butterflies, including the common blue and meadow brown.


Tough and dependable, Eupatorium cannabinum are statuesque plants that enjoy growing in damp areas including riverbanks and wet grasslands or woodlands. The icy-pink flowers will attract red admirals and commas, among others.

Field scabious

Like knapweed, field scabious (Knautia arvensis) is another plant that will pack meadows with colour. There are plenty of similar flowers to try too, including the small scabious and knautia, all of which are popular with butterflies.      

Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve'

If regularly deadheaded, 'Bowles's Mauve' can be relied upon to flower from spring and into autumn, providing nectar for butterflies both early and late in the year.

Discuss this plant feature

Talkback: 10 plants for butterflies
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Newgardener3 08/01/2015 at 21:54

Majoram is another one that the butterflies in my garden love. It was covered in butterflies in the spring/summer and also had lots of bees and hoverflies. A great plant all round for wildlife.

Buttercupdays 09/01/2015 at 12:54

Agree about the marjoram , it's a butterfly magnet. Also bergamot (Monarda) and the shrubby salvias were rarely without a butterfly or two but the most unexpected butterfly plant was Herb Robert. It seeded itself into my rockery wall and put on a good show with its ferny leaves and masses of little pink flowers, plus clouds of little white butterflies. These also like the great willow herb that grows in our boggy wilderness area, but I wouldn't recommend that to normal gardeners! The perennial wallflowers were popular too.

1Runnybeak1 09/01/2015 at 14:23

Sedum Spectabile.  Ice Plant.  Butterflies and hover flies love this easy to grow plant .

Victoria Sponge 09/01/2015 at 20:31

I was just thinking the other day I've never seen a single insect let alone a butterfly on the red valerian...I wonder why

Hopefully they're supporting a humongous moth population instead

Verdun 09/01/2015 at 21:09

Agastaches were major hosts to bees and butterflies for me last summer

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