Butterfly Gardening Simplified
There’s something positively ethereal about butterflies. Even for those of us who aren’t big on bugs, the sight of a colorful pair of wings is enough to put a smile on our face. Butterflies are more than just a pretty face, though. They’re important pollinators that play a vital role in keeping the agriculture industry in Texas going. There’s really no downside to inviting them over for a bite to eat in your garden!
Houston is home to several native butterfly species—including some real beauties! Like any insect, different species tend to favour different plants. So before you plant your butterfly garden, you may want to get acquainted with your fluttery neighbours and decide who you’d like to attract to your yard.
- Queen Butterfly – Similar to Monarchs in appearance, the Queen butterfly has a wingspan of about 3 to 3.5 inches and has black-rimmed bronze wings with varying amount of white spots.
- Pipevine Swallowtail – This stunning butterfly has iridescent blue wings with vivid orange spots on the underside of the hindwings. Their wingspan ranges from 2.5 to 5 inches across.
- Giant Swallowtail – The largest butterflies in North America, these beauties are true to their name. Their black and yellow wingspans range from 5.5 to 7 inches for females and 5.8 to 7.5 inches for males.
- Monarch – Possibly the most famous butterfly in North America, these long-distance travellers have beautiful orange wings with black venation and white spots. Their wingspans are approximately 4 inches across.
- Palamedes Swallowtail – These butterflies have distinctive, high-contrast markings. Their dark wings appear painted with white and yellow markings and blue spots. Their wingspans range for 4.5 to just over 5 inches.
- Tawny Emperor – Tawnies look a little like a smaller, soft-focus monarch. Rather than black markings, their wings are orange with deep brown venation and paler orange spots. Their wingspans are about 2.5 inches across.
- Gray Hairstreak – These striking butterflies are gunmetal gray with vibrant orange spots on their hindwings. They’re very small, with wingspans of about 1 inch.
- Goatweed Leafwing – These guys are hiding a surprise! When their wings are folded, they blend into the ground completely with a muddy gray color. But when they’re fluttering or basking in the sun, they show off absolutely electric orange wings! Their wingspan is about 2.2 to 3 inches.
- American Snout – These guys have a pronounced “snout”, as their name would suggest, but their markings are fairly similar to those of the Monarch or Queen butterfly. The underside of the wings, however, hides these markings by mimicking dead foliage. They are on the small side with wingspans from 1.5 to 2.5 inches.
- Common Buckeye – These striking fellas are distinguished by their “eye”-like markings on brown and orange wings. Their wingspans range from 2 to 2.5 inches.
- Gulf Fritillary – These gorgeous fluttering friends are predominantly orange but speckled with orange marking. Their wingspans range from 2.7 to 3.7 inches across.
- Variegated Fritillary – With orange wings and intricate black markings, these butterflies are a treat to observe. Their wingspans range from 1.75 to 2.25 inches across.
Butterflies that make their homes in the Houston area are more likely to visit native flowers that they recognize to be reliable food sources. They love plants and flowers that provide a source of nectar — but to support their entire lifecycle, you’ll want to include food sources for their caterpillars, too. Try incorporating these butterfly-loving plants into your landscape and watch the visitors flutter in.
Vines that Attract Butterflies
- Aristolochia Fimbriata (Dutchman’s Pipe) – Attracts Pipevine Swallowtail.
- Croton capitatus (Goatweed) – Attracts Gray Hairstreak and Goatweed Leafwing.
- Purple Passionflower (Maypop) – Attracts Gulf Fritillary and Variegated Fritillary.
Shrubs and Bushes that Attract Butterflies
- Cenizo – Attracts multiple butterfly species.
- Barbados cherry – Attracts multiple butterfly species.
- Aromatic sumac – Attracts Gray Hairstreaks.
Flowers that Attract Butterflies
- Texas Toadflax – Attracts Common Buckeye.
- Milkweed – Attracts Monarch and Queen butterflies.
- Salvia – Attracts multiple butterfly species.
- Lantana – Attracts multiple butterfly species.
- Blackfoot daisy – Attracts multiple butterfly species
Trees that Attract Butterflies
- Citrus – Attracts Giant Swallowtail.
- Evergreen sumac – Attracts multiple butterfly species.
- Redbay – Attracts Palamedes Swallowtail.
- Mexican plum – Attracts multiple butterfly species.
- Sugarberry – Attracts Tawny Emperor.
With butterflies, there’s no need to get too complicated. Butterfly gardens tend to be low-maintenance and colorful by nature, just like butterflies themselves. Since these plants are favorites for many other native species, you may also notice even more beneficial pollinators coming to visit. Simply offer them a place to sip some nectar and lay their eggs, and they’ll continue to visit year after year.