Garden Trees That Attract Butterflies

Sources of Nectar

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

    Black Willow Tree

    Derek Hudgins / Flickr

    • 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: 3-8
    • Height: Anywhere from 10-148' 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...MORE 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

     Shelly Havens / Flickr

    • 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

    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...MORE butterflies like:

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

    Eastern Redbud

    Eastern Redbud

     Eric Kilby / Flickr

    • 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

    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 (Cal...MORElophrys 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

    Flowering Dogwood

    Raita Futo / Flickr

     

    • 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

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

    River Birch

    River birch

    Katja Schulz / Flickr

     

    • 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

    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 birch.

  • 06 of 11

    Sassafras

    Sassafras

     Dan Keck / Flickr

    • 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

    Sourwood Tree

     Katja Schulz / Flickr

    • 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

    Staghorn Sumac

    Robert Taylor / Flickr

     

    • 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

    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 (Satyrium calanus)
    • Little wood...MORE 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

     F. D. Richards / Flickr

    • 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

    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

    Sweet birch

     Katja Schulz / Flickr

    • Latin Name: Betula Lenta
    • 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

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

  • 11 of 11

    Wild Cherry

    Wild Cherry

    Andreas Rockstein / Flickr 

    • 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

    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...MORE arthemis)