Butterflies, among the loveliest and most delicate of insects, are welcome guests in the flowerbeds of most gardens. Aside from their aesthetic value, the presence of butterflies indicates a healthy ecosystem. Butterflies adore brightly colored, fragrant flowers. Many herbs produce flowers attractive to butterflies, including commonly used culinary herbs.
Butterflies have a strong affinity for salvias, also called sages. Salvias typically produce tall, thin spikes of tiny flowers in a variety of colors, including purple, white, pink and violet. Depending on the variety, salvias grow as perennials, annuals or biennials. Choose a variety that suits your climate. Salvias to consider include scarlet sage (Salvia cocinea), pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) and pitcher sage (Salvia azurea), which attracts monarch butterflies. Hummingbirds also enjoy visiting salvias. Salvias need well-drained soil and full sun to thrive.
Many butterflies like to visit mints, including the monarch, West Coast lady, red admiral and gray hairstreak butterfly. Mints give off a crisp, delightful scent when brushed against. Mints generally grow well in cooler climates, and often survive freezing temperatures. Pineapple mint (Mentha suavolens “Variegata”) has green leaves with cream-colored edges and pink or white flowers. Pineapple mint is a variation of apple mint (Mentha suaveolens), another plant butterflies love. These plants are hardy to U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone 5. Butterflies are also fond of spearmint (Mentha spicata), hardy to zone 3. If you plant them in the garden, mints can spread easily, smothering other plants. Keep mint confined to a container if you want to avoid this.
A butterfly herb garden doesn’t have to be all for show. By planting common culinary herbs, you’ll have access to fresh seasonings for your meals while providing a habitat for butterflies. Some good choices include chives (Allium schoenoprasum), oregano (Origanum spp.), parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and dill (Anethum graveolens). If not harvested when young, these herbs develop flowers at the end of their growing season. Pick herbs that are hardy to your climate for best results, although many herbs will grow for part of the year as annuals, even in cool parts of the country.
For a burst of color and fragrance in the garden, choose lavenders. The scent of the violet, pink or white flowers attracts butterflies. Lavenders, except Spanish lavender, are hardy to USDA zone 5. Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is another choice plant for a butterfly garden. Anise hyssop looks like lavender, but has a scent that resembles licorice. The plant grows in USDA zone 4 and above. It can become invasive. Bee balm (Monarda didyma) attracts painted ladies, monarchs, fritillaries and swallowtails. Bee balm produces tubular red, pink or white flowers, and it is hardy to USDA zone 5. Like anise hyssop, it has an invasive growing habit.