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Attract a Butterfly?

Two Years ago, we completed the plantings for a Butterfly Garden in Aspen. Last year, while finishing up another area of the property, it was fun to see more and more butterflies visiting the garden.

Butterfly on lilac flowerThis butterfly garden had a special meaning to the client. The client associated butterflies with a close family member who is no longer alive. When we first discussed the project during the design phase, I thought that just maybe I could help her with that loss in a healing re-juvinating way. The approach turned into a massive planting designed to attract and foster the local Butterfly population.

It is estimated that there are over 15,000 species of butterflies throughout the world. Although some butterflies can live a year or more most adult butterflies only live two to three weeks. Butterflies are usually territorial but the Monarch will migrate thousands of miles each year from Canada to Mexico.

In the past, I have used plants that attract butterflies many times, however this was different because of the special meaning butterflies had for the client. So I enlisted the assistance of a butterfly expert, Professor Paul A. Opler, Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, Colorado State University, to help me design a garden with the greatest chance for success.

Five Principles to Follow in Attracting Butterflies

In Professor Opler’s words, the general principals to attract butterflies are:

1. Plant both caterpillar hosts and nectar sources in close proximity to each other for each species.

2. Plant for a seasonal succession. This means to plant so that there is always something blooming or offering an appealing nectar source.

3. Plant important hosts and nectar plants in large groupings, not as single isolated plants.

4. Select native plant species wherever possible.

5. Have paths or walkways so clients may walk through garden to observe and photograph the butterflies.

Plants That Attract Most Species of Butterflies

As important nectar plants Professor Opler emphasized those used by the most species.

Some of the above also serve as host plants, in addition he added pink bergamont, lilacs, rabbitbrush (gray leaf), native thistles, white sweet clover, red valerian, and alfalfa.

  • 1monarda didyma panoramma red
  • 10rudbeckia hirta prairie sun
  • 13aerigeron speciosus
  • 16asclepias tuberosa
  • 17lupine argenteus2
  • 18rudbeckia
  • 24penstemon rocky mountain2
  • 26aster purple dome
  • 32arabis causica snowcap
  • 36aster hardy alpine
  • 39monarda didyma petite delight
  • 43ergonium umbellatum
  • 48gaillardia grandiflora goblin dwarf
  • 68antenaria parviflora
  • 68antenaria parviflora2
  • alpine aster 2
  • Anemone multifida
  • Copy of 27sedum neon
  • dragons blood sedum2
  • GaillardiaAristata
  • low-fleabane
  • low-oregano
  • low-parsley
  • low-peppermint
  • med-lilac
  • nasturtium
  • tall-black eyed susan
  • tall-goldenrod
  • tall-purple coneflower

Plant List

Due to some of the invasive tendencies of a few of the above species we did not use all of them. Below is the planting plan we used after carefully matching host plants with nectar sources, and the plant list for this project.

Butterfly Garden Planting Plan
Latin Name Common Name
agastache aurantiaca ‘coronado’ Hyssop
Arabis Caucasica ‘snowcap’ Rock Cress
Armeria Sea Thrift
Antennaria Pussytoes
Artemesia Schmidtiana Artemesia
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed
Aster Alert Aster Alert
Aster Alpinus (Native Aster) Hardy Alpine Aster
Aster Purple Dome Aster Purple Dome
Coreopsis Grandiflora? Coreopsis Nana
Echinacea purpurea POW WOW Purple Cone Flower
Erigeron Speciosus Fleabane
Eriogonum umbellatum Kannah Creek Sulphur Flower Buckwheat
Gaillardia aristata Bergundy Gaillardia
Gaillardia Golden Goblin
Gaillardia grandiflora goblin dwarf
Heliopsis Summer Sun False Sunflower
liatris spicata liatris
Lupine Argenteus Lupine Argenteus
Monarda didyma Panoramma Red Pink Bergamont
Monarda didyma Petite Delight Pink Bergamont
Penstemon mexicali ‘Shadow Mountain’ Penstemon
Penstemon strictus Rocky Mountain Penstemon
Phlox Paniculata purple kiss Phlox
Rudbeckia Fulgida Goldstrum Black Eyed Susan
Rudbeckia Hirta Autumn Colors Black Eyed Susan
Rudbeckia Hirta Prairie Sun Black Eyed Susan
Salvia Marcus
Sedum Spurium Dragons Blood Dragons Blood Sedum
Sedum Sunkissed
Sedum Neon
Solidago Goldenrod
Thermopsis Divaricarpa Golden Banner
Veronica Liwanensis Turkish Veronica
Veronica Crater Lake
Viola corsica Native Violets
Chrysothamnus Nausious Ericameria rabbitbrush dwarf blue
lupinus argenteus native lupine
allium cernuum Wild Onion
artemesia frigida sages
Veronica Liwanensis Turkish Veronica
Origanum Oregano
Mentha × piperita Peppermint
brassica Cabbage
Brassica Broccoli
Nasturtium Watercress
syringa Lilacs

You can get more information from Professor Opler from the many books he has written or contributed to:

1. Butterflies of North America, an activity and coloring book

[artist Susan Strawn] ISBN 1-57098-435-2 paper, $ 9.95 retail

Order from Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group, 4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706

2. First Guide to Butterflies and Moths, Peterson First Guide

With Amy Bartlett Wright, ISBN 0-395-90665-2 paper, retail $ 5.95

3. Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies

ISBN 0-395-90453-6 paper, retail $ 20.00

4. Peterson Field Guide to Western Butterflies

ISBN 0-395-79152-9 cloth, retail $32.00

 ISBN 0-395-79151-0 paper, $24.00

5. Butterflies, Peterson FlashGuide

ISBN 0-395-82996-8, retail $7.95 U.S.,

Order # 2, 3, 4, & 5 from Houghton Mifflin Co.

Wayside Road,  Burlington, MA 01803         


7. Audubon Videoguide to Butterflies: Essentials for Beginners and Gardeners (DVD), Retail $40.00

8. Audubon Videoguide to Butterflies: Common & Endangered

(DVD), Retail $40.00

Order both DVDs from MasterVision, 969 Park Ave., New York, NY 10028

212/879-0448;   410/516-6994;

9. Moths of Western North America

With J.A. Powell, ISBN- 0-520-25197-0, Retail $95.00 [cloth]

Order from California Princeton Fulfillment Services, 609-883-1759, FAX 609-883-7413,

Note: You can view some of Paul Opler’s and Evi Buckner-Opler’s images on the world-wide web home page at or contact Paul or Evi via e-mail

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