Garden Trees That Attract Butterflies

Sources of Nectar

Vanessa atalanta butterfly, 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

    Black willow tree branches.

    Derek Hudgins / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    • Latin Name: Salix nigra
    • Family: Salicaceae
    • Other Common Names: Swamp willow, Gooding willow, scythe-leaved willow, western black willow, Gulf black willow, and southwestern black willow
    • Native to: Eastern North America and Mexico
    • USDA Zones: 3 through 8
    • Height: 10 to 148 feet tall, depending on location
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    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 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

    Chokecherry tree with flowers in bloom.

     Shelly Havens / Flickr / Public Domain

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

    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 horses, goats, and cows.

    The chokecherry will attract butterflies like:

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

    Eastern Redbud

    Eastern redbud branch with flowers in bloom.

     Eric Kilby / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    • Latin Name: Cercis canadensis
    • Family: Fabaceae
    • Other Common Names: Redbud and Judas tree
    • Native to: Eastern and Midwestern United States
    • USDA Zones: 4 through 9
    • Height: 20 to 30 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    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 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

    Pink flowering dogwood flowers.

    Raita Futo / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    • Latin Name: Cornus florida
    • Family: Cornaceae
    • Native to: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 5 through 9
    • Height: 15 to 40 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    The blossoms on the flowering dogwood come in shades of red, white, or pink. Flowering dogwood, with its spreading crown of long-lasting blossoms, is also spectacular in fall when it produces red fruits and scarlet leaves.

    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 purple (Limenitis arthemis)
    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    River Birch

    River birch tree near a stream.

    Katja Schulz / Flickr /  CC BY 2.0

    • Latin Name: Betula nigra
    • Family: Betulaceae
    • Other Common Names: Black birch, water birch, and red birch
    • Native to: Eastern United States
    • USDA Zones: 4 through 9
    • Height: 40 to 70 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    River birch is a wonderful flowering tree for wetter areas. Other beneficial aspects of the tree, besides being a nectar source, include its multiple trunks and peeling brown bark, both of which attract and support wildlife.

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

  • 06 of 11

    Sassafras

    Sassafras trunk with a sign labeling it.

     Dan Keck / Flickr/ Public Domain

    • Latin Name: Sassafras albidum
    • Family: Lauraceae
    • Other Common Names: Silky sassafras, red sassafras, and white sassafras
    • Native to: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 4 through 9
    • Height: 30 to 60 feet 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. Sassafras produces small fruits that attract birds and has spectacular autumn colors.

    This tree provides butterfly food for:

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

    Sourwood

    Sourwood tree branch with colorful leaves.

     Katja Schulz / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    • Latin Name: Oxydendrum arboreum
    • Family: Ericaceae
    • Other Common Names: Sorrel tree, lily of the valley tree, and sorreltree
    • Native to: Eastern United States
    • USDA Zones: 5 through 9
    • Height: 20 to 75 feet 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 M hairstreak (Parrhasius m-album)
  • 08 of 11

    Staghorn Sumac

    Staghorn sumac with red blooms.

    Robert Taylor / Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

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

    The staghorn sumac is a small tree (or large shrub) with open branches and hairy stems that resemble real stag horns. In addition to spring flowers, it also produces fuzzy red fruits that attract birds. The staghorn 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 (Satyrium 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

    Sugar maple tree changing colors in the fall.

     F. D. Richards / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    • Latin Name: Acer saccharum
    • Family: Aceraceae
    • Other Common Names: Rock maple and hard maple
    • Native to: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 3 through 8
    • Height: 50 to 80 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

    In addition to being a source of maple syrup, the sugar maple will also entice butterflies into the garden. Sugar maples are large and beautiful trees that blaze with reds and yellows in the fall.

    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

    Sweet birch tree leaves on branches.

     Katja Schulz / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    • Latin Name: Betula Lenta
    • Family: Betulaceae
    • Other Common Names: Virginia roundleaf birch, spice birch, cherry birch, mahogany birch, and black birch
    • Native to: Eastern North America
    • USDA Zones: 3 through 8
    • Height: 40 to 70 feet tall
    • Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

    Sweet birch is an attractive tree with dark red, shiny bark and a spicy scent. In fall, its leaves turn a beautiful yellow color. The sweet birch serves as a source of butterfly food for the northern pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon).

  • 11 of 11

    Wild Cherry

    Wild cherry branch with budding flowers.

    Andreas Rockstein / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

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

    With its graceful arching branches, shiny bark, and bunches of delicate blossoms, wild cherry trees are a wonderful addition to most gardens. Wild cherry is also aromatic and produces beautiful fall foliage. 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 red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis)