Butterflies have this unexplainable allure that seems to appeal to people of all ages. The key to enticing these winged beauties to your yard, is utilizing adult nectar sources and larval (caterpillar) host plants in your plant palette.
When it comes to flowers, think vibrant colors like pink, purple, red, orange, and yellow. The shape of flowers is also important as butterflies feed by sipping nectar with their straw-like proboscis. Look for plants that produce clusters of tubular flowers or ones with large flat petals. Incorporating plants that bloom at different times will provide a stable nectar source from spring to frost. There are lots of great nectar plants. This is often indicated on a plant tag with a butterfly symbol. A few of my favorites are: Blazing star (Liatris spp), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Tickseed (Coreopsis spp), and Zinnia (Zinnia elegans).
Nectar plants will attract adult butterflies but you’ll need plants for caterpillars to eat too (host plants). Butterflies such as the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) are very particular, feeding exclusively on milkweed. Others will use plants from several different families. A few of my favorite host plants are: Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and Passion Vine (Passiflora incarnata). Developing caterpillars have voracious appetites so you’ll need to be tolerant of the damage to your plants. While plants may appear to be decimated, most seem to tolerate the grazing just fine. If you’re trying to grow dill or fennel, consider having plants for “you” and plants for “them”.
Building habitat that includes nectar sources and host plants will almost certainly attract butterflies to your yard but there are other considerations. For more information about butterfly gardening, please see: HGIC 1701 Butterflies in the Garden, HGIC 1734 Urban Wildlife – Butterflies, and HGIC 1735 Butterflies of South Carolina.