Nectar Plants and Host Plants for Butterflies in Houston
by Donald Ray Burger
Attorney at Law

Butterflies feed on the nectar of certain flowers. Fortunately for the urban gardener, the plants butterflies prefer are also among the most beautiful in the garden.

The twin goals when placing nectar plants are to (1) plan for an extended bloom season so nectar flowers are always available and (2) plant your selections in groups and not as isolated plants. Masses of color are more likely to attract butterflies.

Host plants are those plants on which butterflies lay their eggs. Different species prefer different host plants. If the female can't find a suitable plant in your garden she will go elsewhere.

Trees, shrubs, vines, annuals, perennials and herbs all provide nectar flowers and host plants. Some butterflies prefer tall plants and some prefer short ones. Plants suitable for Houston are discussed below. Nectar plants are labeled "nectar" and host plants are labeled "host." If a plant is especially attractive to a particular butterfly, that information is also provided.


Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) This tree is easy to grow in Houston. It has interestingly textured bark. Like most oaks, it gets tall with the years. It is a larval food for Edward's Hairstreak.
Parsley Hawthorne (Crataegus marshallii). This is a nectar plant. It is also a host plant for the gray hairstreak. It grows to 25 feet, but mine is still under 10 feet. Bloom period is March and April.
Red Bud (Cercis candensis). This is a great tree for the Houston area because it provides fall color. It is also a host plant for Henry's Elfin.
Texas Mountain Laurel (Sopora secundiflora). This is a slow growing tree. It remains small (under 6 feet) for several years. Each spring it puts out blooms that smell just like grape kool aid. It is a host plant for Henry's Elfin.


Dutchman's Pipevine (Aristolochia spp) This large vine has striking blooms which are shaped like a Dutchman's pipe. It is a larval food for the pipevine swallowtail.
Passionflower vine(Passiflora spp) I have seen this growing wild in the Heights but I did not get any blossoms the first year on my plant. The leaves are larval food for the Gulf Fritillary.


Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) This is one of the best plants for the butterfly garden. It is a nectar plant.
Glossy Abelia (Abelia grandiflora)This is a perennial shrub here in Houston in all but the most severe winter. In my garden it grows to about four feet tall. It is covered with vast numbers of tiny white blooms from June through October. It is a nectar plant which is favored by Swallowtails.
Texas Lantana (Lantana horrida). This is an easy to grow perennial. It freezes back if we have a hard winter but comes back strong. Height in my garden is around two feet. It blooms from spring to frost. It has coarse leaves and lots of small, orangish blooms. It is a nectar plant.


Impatiens (Impatiens spp). This low growing plant is a nectar plant.
Sweet Alyssum(Lobularia martima) This is a low growing annual. It has masses of tiny flowers in red, white and pink. Does best in the cooler months. This is a nectar plant.


Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) By its name, you know this is a plant butterflies love. They lay their eggs on this plant. The caterpillars hatch out and eat all the leaves. You will think the plant is doomed. But it comes back as strong as ever, to have the cycle repeated. We have lots of these plants. They freeze back in a hard winter, but usually come back from the roots.

Daylily(Hemerocallis spp) This is an easy to grow perennial. Although the flowers only last a day, they are much perferred by butterflies as nectar plants.
Gregg's Mistflower Conoclinium greggi This is a great plant. In fact, I have a whole article on it. To read it, click here.

Hibiscus(Hibiscus spp) This is a tropical perennial. It will not survive Houston winters. Some of mine that were planted in the ground came back but they never bloomed much at all. Keep them in pots and move them inside when the weather turns cold. This is a nectar plant.
Pentas(Pentas laceolata)This is one of the easiest plants to grow in Houston. If we have a mild winter it will survive. In the winter of 1995 I lost some pentas, but not all of them. In my garden pentas will grow to three feet tall. They are nectar plants. Red, pink and white blooming plants are available, as are pentas in various heights. Do not miss the chance to plant this wonderful flower.
Plumbago(Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) This old-fashioned plant is a reliable producer of light blue flowers that butterflies like as a source of nectar.


Fennel (Foenicululm vulgare)This is an easy to grow herb. It is a host plant for the Anise Swallowtail.

Last revised July 14, 2014

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