Best Butterfly Plants
for Southern Arizona

Arizona Sister Butterfly (Adelpha eulalia)

Arizona Sister Butterfly (Adelpha eulalia)

Butterfly gardens are quite enjoyable to human beings. But more importantly they provide for wild creatures that, due to human activities, are finding less and less safe havens in the world. Your back yard can help reverse the trend of loss of habitat. Some general factors to consider when planting a butterfly garden are listed below, followed by a giant list of plants for butterfly gardens.

DON’T USE PESTICIDES
Just don’t do it. Often pesticides don’t even work well against the intended targets, and the terrible consequence of using them is that you kill a lot of other insects. We want you to grow gardens FOR insects. Just don’t use pesticide. The natural world has enough to work against without making your back yard toxic. And if protecting insects isn’t enough of a reason for you, know that pesticides are also harmful to humans and pets. Really, just put the urge to spray to rest.

PLANT NECTAR RICH FLOWERS
Nectar rich flowers provide adult butterflies with the fuel they need to exist. Some flowers, like the various blue mist species (Conoclinum spp.) even act as an aphrodisiac to adults, helping them to attract their mates. Butterflies are less choosy about their nectar plants than they are their larval plants, but you will discover that some species seem to prefer certain types of plants. Generally, for example, fritillaries, monarch, and queen butterflies enjoy the milkweeds, blue mist flowers, and bird of paradise. The smaller blues and hairstreaks really love the mints, legumes, and smaller composite flowers. It’s also important to know that you are providing for more than just butterflies. Many insects use nectar and the more you begin to appreciate all the species of insects, the more you begin to understand ecology.

PLANT LARVAL HOSTS
We’ve needed to be very clear about this with our customers—there are many plants we sell because we WANT them to be eaten by bugs, like butterfly larvae. A few times people have told us that they had to kill these bugs that were eating their butterfly plants, and come to find that they were killing the caterpillars these plants attract. Most plants actually grow back just fine from a larval feeding. Remember, these plants evolved with these species of butterflies. Often, there are even symbiotic relationships between butterfly larvae and plant. You will come to see that certain types of plants seem to function as larval hosts for many species of butterfly: legumes (plants in the Fabaceae), composites & daisies (plants in the Asteraceae), and native grasses should make it into your butterfly garden.

THE LANDSCAPE
Make sure you have several layers of plants: groundcovers, shrubs, trees, and vines. Plant annuals and perennials. And leave some bare dirt too (butterflies love wet, mineral rich dirt and will be found in groups in such spots, licking the soil for minerals). Have a source of water nearby (with lots of landing room), especially in the low desert.

OBSERVE
The butterfly garden is a place to hang out quietly, watching the life buzz and flutter before your eyes. Even if you aren’t capable of learning all the names for all those bugs that you’ll find at these flowers, you will become familiar with them by sight. Read books, comb the internet, and learn more about the world that sustains you. The butterfly garden is a great place to begin understanding the wild world. And we cannot exist without it.

PLANT SELECTION

While this is a rather large list of plants for the butterfly garden, keep in mind that we actually left out many plants in the interest of convenience. There are many great books and websites with large lists of plants. The plants chosen below were selected because they make both great larval and nectar hosts, are larval hosts to several species, or some rarer species, or were selected to make sure we gave you a good variety of plant forms to choose from. Make sure you don’t create too much shade in the garden. It limits your species, and butterflies surprisingly love the sun, even in summer.

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Desert Mallows
(Abutilon species)

Abutilon palmeri pictured. Larval food plant for several skipper species of butterfly. Excellent nectar plant.

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prairie acacia
(Acaciella angustissima)

Great nectar plant. Larval food plant for MANY butterflies: several species of yellows, blues, and skippers.

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yarrow
(achillea millefolia)

Nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui).

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false indigo
(amorpha fruticosa)

Nectar plant. Larval food plant for several species of butterflies.

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Beebrush
(Aloysia gratissima)

Nectar plant for adult butterflies.

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oreganillo
(Aloysia wrightii)

Adult nectar plant.

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Flame honeysuckle
(Anisacanthus quadrifidus)

Nectar plant for adult butterflies. Larval food plant for Texan Crescent (Anthanassa texana). Double as good hummingbird plants.

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desert honeysuckle
(anisacanthus thurberi)

Nectar Plant. Larval food plant for the Elada Checkerspot (Texola elada). Double as good hummingbird plants.

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Watson's dutchman's pipe
(Aristolochia watsonii)

This species is the specific larval food plant for the pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor).

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western mugwort
(Artemesia ludoviciana)

Larval food plant for the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) and the American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis).

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Arizona milkweed
(asclepias angustifolia)

Adult nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Queen (Danaus gilippus) and the monarch (Danaus plexippus).

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Antelope horn
(asclepias asperula)

Adult nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Queen (Danaus gilippus) and the monarch (Danaus plexippus).

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pineleaf milkweed
(asclepias linaria)

Adult nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Queen (Danaus gilippus) and the monarch (Danaus plexippus).

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desert milkweed


(asclepias subulata)

Adult nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Queen (Danaus gilippus) and the monarch (Danaus plexippus).

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butterfly weed
(asclepias tuberosa)

Adult nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Queen (Danaus gilippus) and the monarch (Danaus plexippus).

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saltbush
(Atriplex species)

Atriplex canescens pictured. Larval food plant for many butterflies including the Western Pygmy Blue (Brephidium exilis).

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seepwillow
(Baccharis salicifolia)

Excellent nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Fatal Metalmark (Calephelis nemesis) and the Elada Checkerspot (Texola elada).

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Desert Broom
(Baccharis sarothroides)

We know, we know, you think this is an invasive weed. But it’s a native pioneer plant and it belongs here. Also it is about the best nectar plant you can possibly have in your garden. You can purchase male selections to avoid having unwanted seedlings come up in the garden.

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willow ragwort
(Barkleyanthus salicifolius)

Great adult nectar plant. Larval food plant for American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis).

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anacacho orchid tree
(Bauhinia luniarioides)

Nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Gold Spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)

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Arizona Beggarticks
(Bidens aurea)

Excellent nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Arizona Metalmark (Calephelis arizonensis) and the Dainty Sulfur (Nathalis iole).

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cane beardgrass
(Bothriochloa barbinodis)

Larval food plant for the Slaty Roadside Skipper (Amblyscirtes nereus).

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Grama grasses
(Bouteloua species)

Bouteloua gracilis pictured. Larval food plant for many of the skipper species

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Red Bird of paradise
(Caesalpinia pulcherrima)

Adult nectar plant.

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Fairy duster
(Calliandra Eriophylly)

Adult nectar plant. Larval host plant for a few of the Blues.

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arizona wrightwort
(Carlowrightia arizonica)

Larval food plant for the Texan Crescent (Anthanassa texana).

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desert ceanoththus

(ceanothus greggii)

Larval food plant for a mind boggling number of butterfly species. Excellent nectar plant.

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desert hackberry
(Celtis eherenbergiana)

Nectar plant. Larval food plant for many species including the Empress Leilia (Asterocampa leilia). Also an excellent bird shrub.

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canyon hackberry
(Celtis reticulata)

Nectar plant. Larval food plant for a mind-boggling number of butterfly species including the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa). Also an excellent bird tree.

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Desert Mountain Mahogany


(Cercocarpus breviflorus)

Excellent nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus).

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clematis
(clematis species)

Nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Fatal Metalmark (Calephelis nemesis ).

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Blue Mist Flower
(conoclinum species)

Several species. Adult nectar plant.

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baby bonnets


(Coursetia glandulosa)

Nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis).

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Daleas
(Dalea species)

Several Species. Dalea bicolor pictured. Adult nectar plants. Larval food plants for Reakirt’s Blue (Hemiargus isola), Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia), and Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus).

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arizona foldwing
(Dicliptera resupinata)

Nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Texas Crescent (Anthanassa texana).

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texas ebony
(Ebenopsis ebano)

Larval food plant for the Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus) and the Orange Sulfur (Colias eurytheme).

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Fleabane
(Erigeron species)

Several species. Excellent nectar plant.

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kidneywood
(eysenhardtia orthocarpa)

Excellent nectar plant. Larval food plant for several butterflies including the Arizona Hairstreak (Erora quaderna).

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velvet ash tree


(Fraxinus velutina)

Larval food plant for the Two-Tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata).

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desert cotton
(Gossypium thurberi)

Nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), and the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus).

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bladder mallow
(herissantia crispa)

Larval food plant for an incredible number of skipper species. Excellent nectar plant.

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Arizona cypress
(Hesperocyperus arizonicus)

Larval food plant for the Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus).

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Hibiscus
(Hibiscus species)

Several native species. Excellent nectar plant. Larval food plant for a few of the hairstreak species.

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Desert lavender
(Hyptis emoryi)

Now known as Condea emoryi. Excellent nectar plant. Larval food plant for the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus).

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Fermina
(Janusia gracilis)

Nectar plant. Larval food plant for several skipper species and the Funereal Duskywing (Erynnis funeralis).

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Justicia species

Nectar plant. Larval food plant for several species of butterflies including the Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos).

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sprangletop

Larval food plant for a number of skipper butterflies.

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Lantana
(Lantana species)

This is the native Lantana achyranthifolia (we are working to get this into cultivation in Arizona). But even the garden variety Lantana species are excellent butterfly nectar plants.

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Takhoka Daisy
(Machaeranthera tanacetifolia)

Nectar plant. Larval food plant for several butterfly species including the Sagebrush Checkerspot (Chlosyne acastus).

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mimosa species

Several species. All great nectar plants. Larval hosts for Reakirt’s Blue (Hemiargus isola) and the Mimosa Yellow (Pyrisitia nise).

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Muhlenbergia species

Several species, all great larval food for many species. Muhlenbergia emersleyi (Bullgrass) is a larval host for a considerable number of species (pictured).

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passion flowers
(Passiflora species)

Passiflora mexicana pictured. Nectar flower. Larval host for numerous Fritillary species.

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velvet mesquite
(Prosopis velutina)

Larval host for a large number of butterfly species including Palmer’s Metalmark (Apodemia palmeri). One of the best general wildlife plants there are.

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oak trees
(Quercus species)

Several species. Quercus turbinella pictured (which grows well in the low desert as well as in the higher elevations). Larval host for countless species of butterflies.

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New Mexico Locust
(Robinia neomexicana)

Nectar plant. Larval host for numerous species of butterflies.

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wild desert petunia
(Ruellia nudiflora)

Nectar plant. Host plant for a few species of buckeye including the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia).

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Salvia
(Salvia species)

Salvia lemmonii pictured. Great nectar plants. Double as good hummingbird plants.

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soap Berry
(Sapindus saponaria)

Larval food plant for the Soap Berry Hairstreak.

Catclaw Acacia
(Senegalia greggii)

Great nectar plant. Larval host to several species of yellows and blues.

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globemallows
(Sphaeralcea species)

Sphaeralcea ambigua pictured. Host to numerous species of butterflies. Great larval plant.

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lemmon marigold
(Tagetes lemmonii)

Excellent nectar plant.

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dogweed
(Thymophylla pentachaeta)

Excellent nectar plant.

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yuccas
(Yucca species)

Nectar flower. Special symbiotic relationship with its pollinator for which it provides as a larval host, the Yucca Giant Skipper (Megathymus yuccae).

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zinnias
(Zinnia species)

Zinnia acerosa is pictured. Excellent nectar plant.