Plants That Attract Hummingbirds and Butterflies
If you consider your garden or backyard an oasis for wildlife, then you are probably interested in attracting creatures like butterflies and hummingbirds. But to do so, you need to know which plant species contain food sources for them.
Certain flowering plants with sweet nectar-like bee balm, sunflowers, and milkweed - are big attractors of butterflies and hummingbirds, as are plants that draw in the bugs that hummingbirds eat. You can also attract butterflies with plants containing certain types of pollen.
Published: November 21, 2022.
Continue reading as we highlight the best plants to keep around that hummingbirds and butterflies feed on and/or pollinate. We’ll discuss which plants are best as native plant attractors and which ones can be brought into a garden where they don’t grow already. Let’s get into it!
Best Plants to Attract Hummingbirds and Butterflies
Hummingbirds and different species of butterflies have different feeding and pollinating habits. So, in order to attract them to your garden or the outdoor area of your property, you need to know which plants they flock to.
Hummingbirds are particularly fond of eating insects and sweet plant nectar, so you need to have plants that attract the insects that they eat, as well as plants that contain the nectar they eat.
On the other hand, butterflies may feed on the sap of certain trees and certain nectar-containing flowers. They also feed on pollen and transfer pollen, so you want to acquire the pollen-containing plants they like.
In this guide, we’ll explore the following categories of plants you can use to attract these creatures:
- Flowers with nectar to attract hummingbirds
- Plants that attract the insects that hummingbirds look for as food
- Flowers with nectar to attract butterflies
- Plants with pollen that attract butterflies
Flowers with Nectar and/or Pollen (Hummingbirds)
One of the main food sources for hummingbirds is sweet nectar. These often happen to be brightly-colored flowers, which visually attract the birds as well. Another factor that aligns with hummingbird attracting flowers is that the flower is often a perennial - it grows back every year.
Scarlet Bee Balm
Bee balm (Monarda) is not just a good bee attractor; it’s also a great hummingbird attractor due to the sweet nectar it contains. If your garden gets at least partial sun and you are in growing regions 4-9 with well-draining soil, this is an ideal plant to use for hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds are attracted to the bright colors of scarlet bee balm blooms, and their long beaks can easily extract the nectar inside to nourish them.
What’s great about this hummingbird-attracting plant is that it’s fairly easy to grow and maintain.
Columbine is another perennial flowering plant that you won’t have to re-plant each year. The blooms attract hummingbirds, which can fit their beaks into the tubular shape of the flowers to extract nectar for food.
This is especially true of columbine species that are brightly colored, such as alpine columbine (blue) and western red columbine.
Hummingbirds are also responsible for pollinating certain red columbines, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Furthermore, red columbines have more sugar than other columbine species, making them great attractors of the birds in growing zones 3-9.
Scarlet sage, as its name suggests, is a bright red flowering salvia plant that mostly grows in the Southeastern zones of the U.S. The plant’s stems are lined with elongated red blooms that hummingbirds visit in order to pollinate.
Unlike the other hummingbird-attracting plants on this list, this salvia plant is an annual, meaning you’ll have to re-plant it each year.
Irises are beautiful flowering plants to have in any garden. And with their bright blue petals, they easily attract hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds flock to these flowers, which are versatile enough to grow in most regions, and drink the nectar contained therein.
Hollyhock plants (Alcea) are some of the hummingbirds’ favorite flowering plants. They may be annual or perennial, but their colorful pink, red, yellow, and sometimes purple flowers attract hummingbirds to feed on the sweet nectar inside of them.
Hummingbirds are primarily attracted to red-colored varieties of hollyhock, which grow tall in a backyard or garden space.
Other Hummingbird Attracting Plants with Nectar
Hummingbirds are also attracted to similar types of flowering plants, such as:
- Coral bells
- Butterfly bush
Plants That Attract Bugs That Hummingbirds Eat
Another main source of food for hummingbirds is insects, so having plants that draw in the insects they like is key if you want them in your garden.
Hummingbirds mainly eat bugs like spiders, flying insects, mosquitoes, aphids, ants, and mites. For example, the blue-throated hummingbird is known for catching small flying bugs in its mouth.
Flowers and Lilies
There is a good and bad side to the types of plants that attract hummingbird food (mosquitoes) - you’re drawing in hummingbirds while also drawing in a human-biting pest.
Most flowers and especially water lilies, commonly pool water on their blooms and leaves, which is a prime breeding ground for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. While the mosquitoes will be good food for hummingbirds, you may not prefer to have them in your backyard.
If your garden contains crop plants such as tomatoes, squash, or other veggies, then chances are you will have some aphid colonies. Having aphids around can be quite annoying, but luckily creatures like ladybugs and hummingbirds swoop in to feed on these pests.
While this won’t be the primary source of food for hummingbirds, they may enjoy feeding on the little bugs on your tomato blooms for protein.
Did you know that spiders are attracted to certain taller plants? They take residence in plants like hollyhock, foxglove, and giant sunflowers in backyard gardens. And hummingbirds sometimes turn to these spiders for a meal to supplement their nectar consumption.
Having some tall plants like hollyhock can draw in spiders (which eat other garden pests) and provide food for hummingbirds - a win-win scenario.
Peonies and Roses
These beautiful flowers make any garden look better, but they also attract many of the garden ants that hummingbirds can eat. So, if you want to add some flowers to your garden AND attract hummingbirds, planting peonies and roses may be a good choice.
Unfortunately, mites are common in gardens and hard to see at first glance. They can quickly infest a plant and cause growth problems. Luckily, though, mites are some of the insects that hummingbirds will feed on.
So, your plants that have mites could be attracting hummingbirds, who are helping to take care of that pest problem for you.
Flowers with Nectar (Butterflies)
When it comes to butterflies, you can also rely on flowering plants with high nectar content to attract beautiful creatures. Butterflies use their long tongues to get inside of blooms and drink up sweet nectar.
Below are some of the flowering plants with nectar that different butterfly species are attracted to.
Just as the nectar in milkweed flowers attracts hummingbirds, it also attracts many types of butterflies. The flying creatures feed on the nectar in the blooms in the few weeks that they live.
There are certain flowering plants that have lots of little blooms, just the right size for butterfly tongues to get into. Plants such as lilacs, Queen Anne’s lace, and yarrow meet this criterion, and that’s why they’re great for attracting butterflies into your garden to eat. Further, the perfumey smell of these blooms will attract butterflies in troves.
Daisies are also great for drawing butterflies into your garden. In the center of daisies, there are tons of tiny little flowers that butterflies can fit their tongues into in order to feed.
This makes it much easier for them to feed a lot in just one location, so daisies are a great garden addition for butterfly lovers. Shasta daisies, in particular, are a good daisy species to draw in butterflies.
These brightly colored flowers liven up any backyard or cut flower garden, and their food-filled centers attract butterflies ranging from monarchs to red admirals, European peacock butterflies, and tortoiseshell butterflies, among others.
Unfortunately, zinnias are annuals, meaning they require more maintenance and on a yearly basis. However, they are a tried and true attractor of both hummingbirds and butterflies.
Milkweed - also known as Asclepias - is a flowering herbaceous plant that attracts caterpillars that eventually metamorphose into monarch butterflies. These caterpillars feed on plant matter voraciously before they go into their cocoons.
So, if you keep milkweed in your garden in a region where monarch butterflies are common (places where milkweed naturally grows), you can draw in the caterpillars to your backyard.
Milkweed also attracts the milkweed butterfly (Danainae) - a brightly colored brush-footed butterfly that sometimes appears in brown or blue.
Here are some milkweed species to stay away from, though, if you want monarchs in your garden:
- A. curassavica (tropical milkweed)
- A. tuberosa (butterfly weed)
Plants with Pollen (Butterflies)
In addition to drinking nectar in flowers, butterflies are also responsible for certain pollinating activities. Additionally, they sometimes get nutrition from the pollen they come into contact with.
Their whole bodies - with the exception of their wings - collect and transport the pollen as they move through the world.
Keep in mind, however, that butterflies aren’t super efficient pollinators, at least not as much as bees are. And they’re more likely to get nutrition from the nectar they suck out of these plants.
That’s why butterflies are more like accidental pollinators - it’s not their main goal when visiting flowering plants - but they do benefit from it.
Again, daisies will attract butterflies to your property due to the tiny little flowers in the center. That’s where much of the pollen resides, and when the butterflies go in to feed on nectar, they pick up the pollen in the process.
Certain herbs, such as dill and fennel, attract butterflies because the creatures are responsible for pollinating the plants.
Butterflies may also get drawn to cilantro and basil herb plants in a backyard garden for similar reasons.
A veggie garden is surprisingly another great attractor of butterflies. When these crop plants flower, they attract butterflies who end up pollinating the garden. For example, you can expect the following plants to attract them:
Lavender is another great pollinator plant that attracts certain kinds of butterflies. Lavender is not only pleasant to have in a garden for people, but it’s also fragrant enough to attract butterflies with its scent.
Additionally, lavender has blooms that are the ideal tubular shape to allow butterflies to stick their tongues down in to feed. In the process, they end up collecting pollen to contribute to the pollination of your garden.
Another thing to keep in mind is that butterflies, much like hummingbirds, are mainly attracted to brightly colored blooms. Reds, oranges, and yellows are great flower colors to have in your garden if you want to draw in butterflies.
Wildflowers are great pollinator plants, which means that they will attract certain butterflies.
Coneflowers, bellflowers, poppies, aster, and black-eyed susans, among others, are just some of the nutritious wildflowers you can use in your garden to attract butterflies to feed on and gather pollen from.
Plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies often overlap and range from herbs to fruiting plants, wildflowers, pollinator plants, and more. Butterflies and hummingbirds live off of the nectar found inside blooms, and they are primarily attracted to brightly colored flowers on plants.
Hummingbirds are also attracted to plants that contain the insects that they eat, such as plants where mosquitoes, aphids, spiders, mites, and flies reside.
When looking to attract these beautiful creatures to your garden or backyard, make sure to refer to this guide to great companion plants. We wish you luck in creating a butterfly or hummingbird oasis and make sure to research the proper growing conditions for these plants before selecting them.