Flowers: Annuals & Perennials

There is a cornucopia of annual and perennial flowers to choose from that are very attractive to butterflies. Many are small, diminutive individuals that one can tuck here and there, helter skelter, tenderly tamped in garden soil and lovingly plunged in pots. I stick a few of the smaller marigold varieties in larger pots that are homes to larger plants for a more diverse nectar selection and some added color. Marigolds are said to help deter aphids from accompanying plants, but personal experience doesn't necessarily support that notion.

Many of these belong to the daisy family, such as asters, cosmos, marigolds, and zinnias, amongst many others. What they all have in common is the classic daisy "look" in one form or anothor of a central disc surrounded by radiating petals.

 Classic daisy flower

One thing to beware of when you consider purchasing these plants though, is the simple vs. compound flower arrangements which describes the placement of petals each flower possesses. Simple-petaled flowers make it simple for butterflies to find and reach the nectar that is produced by a flower's nectaries. Simple, eh? Compound flowers compound a butterfly's search for nectar; an easy way to remember. With marigolds, the differences are readily apparent. Here are two marigold flower photos illustrating these arrangements:

 Marigold simple flower, nectaries revealed.

Marigold compound flower, also known as a pompom. ?Nectaries?

Butterflies expend a lot of energy during their nectar forays, so they want it fast and they want it now (conservation of energy, yada-yada...). For more information regarding the daisy family (compositae), please refer to this previous post:

September 11, 2015

Here are some tried-and-true annual and perennial plants that butterflies love, most of them belonging to the daisy family. Be aware though, that butterflies have flower species and regional tastes: what one specie of butterfly may like in Connecticut, its cousins in California may completely ignore. This list contains flowers that have proven to be winners in gardens across the U.S. Your mileage may vary, but hey, it doesn't hurt to try, and they aren't that expensive to buy:

Aster: both annual and perennial representatives.

Cosmos: dainty flowers atop long, wiry stems, floating and bobbing above fern-like foliage.

Echinacea: an American native that many people staunchly agree is a premier butterfly magnet, especially in the Midwest.

Liatris ligulistylis: added because of the rave reviews by all that have it, at how it attracts butterflies galore, especially Monarchs. Said to be a bit persnickety in southern states. Probably best planted in part shade in those areas, including SoCal.

Marigolds: cast iron plants that are impossible to kill, although I'm sure people have tried.

Rudbeckia: wonderful native American daisy sporting colors in the yellow through orange ranges, and into burnt umber.

Scabiosa: the comely Pincushion Flower. A sure winner.

Tithonia rotundifolia: a big plant eventually, this hearty, fast growing annual can take the heat, and what a flower color! Sizzle! Drought tolerant, Tithonia will send both butterflies and hummingbirds quivering, begging for more.

Verbena: Verbena bonariensis is one of my all time favorite butterfly plants. I have yet to see a butterfly pass it up. Besides perennials such as V. bonariensis, one can find annual verbenas amongst the bedding plants sold at nurseries.

Zinnias: another Mexican native as is Tithonia, zinnias come in an array of colors and flower forms, both simple and compound. I want to love this plant, but where I live at least, zinnias invariably get powdery mildew.

These are but a few of the more popular flowers; there are many more: alyssum, calendula, heliotrope, lobelia, salvias, wallflowers; and on and on... Check with a knowledgeable nursery person regarding suggestions for a butterfly garden. I find the Green Thumb and Armstrong Nursery chains normally have well educated nursery staff on hand. What one may not know, may be another's forte