Garden Trees That Attract Butterflies

Nectar Sources

Butterfly, Vanessa atalanta, perched on a tree with lichens
japatino / Getty Images

One way to invite butterflies to your garden is to plant flowering trees. The adults will visit and dine on the nectar, carrying away pollen with them and pollinating other plants as they go. These 11 species all feature nectar-rich blossoms that will entice butterflies.

  • 01 of 11

    Black Willow

    • Latin Name: Salix nigra
    • Family: Salicaceae
    • Other Common Names: Swamp willow, Gooding willow, scythe-leaved willow, western black willow, Gulf black willow, southwestern black willow
    • Native to: Eastern North America and Mexico
    • USDA Zones:
    • Height: Anywhere from 10-148' tall depending on location
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Other willow trees and shrubs

    The black willow is an American tree that will work well in moist locations. It can either be a shrub or tree depending on the growing...MORE conditions and health.

    These butterflies like black willow nectar:

    • Brown elfin (Callophrys augustinus)
    • Compton tortoiseshell (Nymphalis vaualbum)
    • Henry's elfin (Callophrys henrici)
    • Hoary elfin (Callophrys polios)
    • Northern pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon)
  • 02 of 11

    Chokecherry

    • Latin Name: Prunus virginiana
    • Family: Rosaceae
    • Other Common Names: Bitter-cherry, Virginia bird cherry, bitter-berry, western chokecherry
    • Native to: North America
    • USDA Zones: 2-7
    • Height: 20-30' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • More about the chokecherry and other Prunus species

    The sprays of pretty white flowers serve up nectar for butterflies and bees. The fruit that results from pollination is a tart drupe that is sweetened and cooked for use in fruit preserves.

    This species is poisonous to...MORE horses, goats, and cows.

    The chokecherry will attract butterflies like:

    • American lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
    • Silvery blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus)
  • 03 of 11

    Eastern Redbud

    • Latin Name: Cercis canadensis
    • Family: Fabaceae
    • Other Common Names: Redbud, Judas tree
    • Native to: Eastern and midwestern United States
    • USDA Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 20-30' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Growing profile for the eastern redbud

    One of the earliest trees to bloom in the spring (even before its leaves pop out!) is the exquisite eastern redbud. The tree becomes covered with pink blossoms that will bring bees and butterflies to your garden.

    Many butterflies visit the eastern redbud for...MORE sustenance. They include:

    • Brown elfin (Callophrys augustinus)
    • Dreamy duskywing (Erynnis icelus)
    • Dusky azure (Celastrina nigra)
    • Eastern pine elfin (Callophrys niphon)
    • Gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus)
    • Juniper hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)
    • Juvenal’s duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis)
    • Silvery blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus)
    • Sleepy duskywing (Erynnis brizo)
    • Spring azure (Celastrina ladon)
    • Zebra swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)
  • 04 of 11

    Flowering Dogwood

    • Latin Name: Cornus florida
    • Family: Cornaceae
    • Native to: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 5-9
    • Height: 15-40' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Other dogwood trees, shrubs, and subshrubs

    The blossoms on the flowering dogwood come in shades of red, white or pink.

    You will see these butterflies on the flowering dogwood:

    • American snout (Libytheana carinenta)
    • Banded hairstreak (Satyrium calanus)
    • Question mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
    • White M hairstreak (Parrhasius m-album)
    • White admiral or red-spotted...MORE purple (Limenitis arthemis)
    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    River Birch

    • Latin Name: Betula nigra
    • Family: Betulaceae
    • Other Common Names: Black birch, water birch, red birch
    • Native to: Eastern United States
    • USDA Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 40-70' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Growing profile for the river birch

    Another good choice for locations with moist soil is the river birch. Other beneficial aspects of the tree, besides being a nectar source, are its multiple trunks and peeling brown bark.

    The northern pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon) will visit the flowers of the river...MORE birch.

  • 06 of 11

    Sassafras

    • Latin Name: Sassafras albidum
    • Family: Lauraceae
    • Other Common Names: Silky sassafras, red sassafras, white sassafras
    • Native to: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 30-60' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    Sassafras used to be a major component of root beer. The leaves are also dried and ground up to make a spice called filé powder for use in gumbo.

    This tree provides butterfly food for:

    • American lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
    • King’s hairstreak (Satyrium kingi)
  • 07 of 11

    Sourwood

    • Latin Name: Oxydendrum arboreum
    • Family: Ericaceae
    • Other Common Names: Sorrel tree, lily of the valley tree, sorreltree
    • Native to: Eastern United States
    • USDA Zones: 5-9
    • Height: 20-75' tall depending on location
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    The sourwood tree bears sprays of pretty white flowers during the summer and bright red leaves in autumn. This tree is also liked by bees.

    Sourwood provides butterfly food for:

    • Edwards’ hairstreak (Satyrium edwardsii)
    • King's hairstreak (Satyrium kingi)
    • White...MORE M hairstreak (Parrhasius m-album)
  • 08 of 11

    Staghorn Sumac

    • Latin Name: Thus typhina
    • Family: Anacardiaceae
    • Other Common Names: Velvet sumac, vinegar tree
    • Native to: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 4-8
    • Height: 15-25' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Other sumac trees and shrubs

    The staghorn sumac is a small tree (or large shrub) that does tend to form suckers, so use this where it can spread or cut out the suckers as they appear.

    Staghorn sumac will invite these butterfly species to sip on nectar:

    • American snout (Libytheana carinenta)
    • Banded hairstreak (S...MOREatyrium calanus)
    • Little wood satyr (Megisto cymela)
    • Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
    • Silvery checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)
    • Summer azure (Celastrina neglecta)
    • White admiral or red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis)
    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    Sugar Maple

    • Latin Name: Acer saccharum
    • Family: Aceraceae
    • Other Common Names: Rock maple, hard maple
    • Native to: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 3-8
    • Height: 50-80' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Growing profile for the sugar maple

    In addition to being a source of maple syrup, the sugar maple will also entice butterflies into the garden.

    You may see these butterflies on your sugar maple:

    • Eastern comma (Polygonia comma)
    • Mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
    • Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
  • 10 of 11

    Sweet Birch

    • Latin Name:
    • Family: Betulaceae
    • Other Common Names: Virginia roundleaf birch, spice birch, cherry birch, mahogany birch, black birch
    • Native to: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 3-8
    • Height: 40-70' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Growing profile for the sweet birch

    The sweet birch serves as a source of butterfly food for the northern pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon).

  • 11 of 11

    Wild Cherry

    • Latin Name: Prunus serotina
    • Family: Rosaceae
    • Other Common Names: Wild black cherry, rum cherry, black cherry, mountain wild cherry
    • Native to: North America
    • USDA Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 40-90' tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • More about the wild cherry

    You can cook the fruits of the wild cherry if there are any left after birds visit.

    Wild cherry nectar serves as butterfly food for these species:

    • Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
    • Red-banded hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops)
    • White admiral or...MORE red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis)

    Sources:

    Butterfly Gardening

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