Adult butterflies feed on nectar, so many gardeners purposefully choose plants to attract them. Remember however, that there are four stages in the life of a butterfly: the egg, the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the adult.
The caterpillars munch on the leaves of garden plants. For example, monarch caterpillars love milkweed, but the monarch adult butterflies will also be attracted to the nectar in goldenrod, thistle, cosmos and lantana.
Eastern black swallowtail caterpillars love Queen Anne's lace and parsley, but adult swallowtails enjoy the nectar from phlox, clover and loosestrife. If you wish to attract many butterflies to your garden, plant a butterfly Bush, "Buddleia Davidii," in your garden. It likes ordinary, well-drained soil and full sun.
Planting a Butterfly Bush
It is hardy to zone 5 and blooms on new wood, so if winter kills the top growth, it will still bloom. Just cut back in the early spring. The panicles of flowers come in white, pink, lavender and blue and cover the five foot shrub during late summer and fall. Clive Sansom's poem captures the magic of butterflies. He wrote:
Light as petals, white as daisies
Shantung - cool in summer's blaze
Butterflies through leaf green mazes
Go their drunken, darling ways.
Gay erratic, wayward dancers
Treading with a flippant grace
Airy polkas, fairy dancers
Down the polished floors of space.