What should I plant to make a
Butterfly Garden?
Don Herbison-Evans,
( donherbisonevans@outlook.com)
Stella Crossley

There are two aspects to a butterfly garden:

1. attracting adult butterflies to feed, and
2. attracting adult butterflies to breed.

1. Attracting adults to feed

This requires mainly flowers with nectar. You can cheat by placing little coloured plastic saucers around the garden with dilute honey in them. Otherwise, good plants are:

Buddleia davidii
Buddleia davidii
Pentas lanceolatum
Pentas lanceolata
Lantana camara
Lantana camara

Some species of butterfly also drink sap exuding from trees and the juices of rotting fruit. Try leaving cut fruit on a bird table in your garden.

2. Attracting adults to breed

This requires the presence of the food plants of the caterpillars in your garden. First you need to learn what species of butterfly most commonly breed in your area. These will be the species to accommodate in your garden. Female butterflies are very fussy. They will only lay their eggs on plants belonging to a few plant species or in some cases plants from one scientific genus or family. The caterpillars have digestive systems atuned to the chemicals in only a few plant species, and so the caterpillars can only thrive on these plants. So look up books and webpages about the biology of your local butterflies, and learn what foodplants their caterpillars use. These are the plants to grow in your garden.

Often older leaves of plants contain more toxins than young leaves, so it is a good idea to prune regularly any bushes or trees that you grow in order to encourage new growth.

Some specific plants for butterflies that have adapted to suburban gardens in Australia are:

Papilio aegeus
Citrus Butterfly
Lemon Trees
Citrus limon

Papilio anactus
Dainty Swallowtail

Orange Trees
Citrus sinensis

Papilio demoleus
Chequered Swallowtail
Fortunella margarita

Graphium sarpedon
Blue Triangle
Camphor Laurel
Cinnamomum camphora

Euploea core
Common Crow
Nerium oleander

Cephrenes augiades
Orange Palm Dart
Palm Trees
Phoenix canariensis

Leptotes plinius
Zebra Blue
Plumbago auriculata

Lampides boeticus
Pea Blue
Spanish Broom
Spartium junceum

Zizina labradus
Grass Blue
White Clover
Trifolium repens

Danaus plexippus
Gomphocarpus fruticosus

Delias nigrina
Common Jezabel
Dendrophthoe glabrescens

Pieris rapae
Cabbage White
Tropaeolum majus

There are a few plant families that are foodplants of several Butterfly species, particularly Grasses, Reeds, and Mistletoes.

For other species, there is a problem. Plants and butterflies have co-evolved over the last 100 million years with plants producing poisons and butterflies producing antidotes. So there has been divergent evolution ending up with many families of plants each with different poisons, and many butterfly species each being able to metabolise the poisons of one plant family. So to attract many species of butterflies to breed you will need plants from many different families, see list at:

Larval foodplant families of Butterfly species in Australia

Further reading :

Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club
various booklets.

Peter Valentine,
Gardening for Butterflies.

Link to
Flowers in Australia
Australian Butterflies
Australian Moths
  Link to
Caterpillar FAQS

(updated 29 November 2009)