Nectar for butterflies in summer

Nectar plants(Enlarge) ©Janet Allen
Some of my recently-released monarchs feasting on coneflowers, monarda, and rudbeckia in my meadow garden

We plant lots of native herbaceous plants that provide lots of nectar.

We enjoy not just the butterflies that nectar here, but also the other native pollinators, especially the bees. There's always a pleasant hum of activity to enjoy in addition to the pretty flowers.

And because insects see the world differently than we do, native plants offer more benefits than we realize, sporting "landing strips" and such that they can see that we can't. These are often absent in non-native plants and even in cultivars of native plants!

Doing double duty

Swamp milkweed ©Janet AllenSwamp milkweed is a nectar plant and a host plant

It's always nice when a plant can serve more than one habitat purpose. Such is the case with these native plants, which are not only nectar plants for a variety of adult butterflies and other insects, but also caterpillar food plants for particular butterflies and moths.

For example, here's a monarch laying eggs on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), using it as a larval host plant.

Mourning cloak on swamp milkweed ©Janet AllenMourning cloak on swamp milkweed

And it's also an excellent nectar plant not just for the monarch, but for other butterflies, bees, and insects as well.

Butterfly weed ©Janet AllenButterfly weed is a host plant

Like swamp milkweed, butterfly weed (A. tuberosa) is a larval host plant for monarchs.

Butterfly weed as nectar ©Janet AllenButterfly weed as nectar

And here's an eight-spotted forester moth enjoying its nectar.

Other host plants also serve as nectar plants, too. The list is long, but includes such native plants as particular types of turtlehead, aster, zizia, New Jersey tea, and others. (Here's a list of host plants…)

Some other nectar plants

monarch on coneflower ©Janet AllenMonarch on coneflower

Here are just a few of the many other native nectar plants butterflies (and other insects) enjoy in the summer. Many also continue flowering into the fall.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is an excellent nectar plant for monarchs as well as for other butterflies and insects. (They also provide seeds for birds in winter.)

Clethra ©Janet AllenClethra

Clethra (also called summersweet or sweet pepper bush) (Clethra alnifolia) growing next to our pond is a mid-sized shrub, fortunately becoming more commonly-available commercially.

It's a great native shrub for mid-summer blooming, and, as its name implies, it has a nice fragrance.

Joe-pye  ©Janet AllenJoe-pye

Even though joe-pye weed (Eupatorium)— unfortunately (as with so many other native plants) has the dreaded "weed" in its name, we think it's a handsome plant.

(We're trying to train ourselves to call it just "joe-pye.")

It's a valuable nectar plant for bees, too.

Eastern tiger swallowtail ©Janet Allen
A tattered tiger swallowtail enjoying a sip of nectar

I usually cut back some of these plants in June so they won't get so tall, especially those closer to the front of the beds. This delays the flowering somewhat, but since I don't cut back all of them, it creates an extended bloom time.

Since it reseeds quite a bit, I also cut off some of the seedheads in the fall, but not all of them since birds enjoy eating the seeds in the winter.

The button form of liatris

Liatris is an excellent nectar plant. The commonly-sold liatris is good, but they especially like Liatris ligulistylis, a button form of liatris.

Silver-spotted skipper on liatris ©Janet AllenSilver-spotted skipper on liatris

This silver-spotted skipper is enjoying nectar from a liatris. The various types of liatris are great nectar plants and very attractive in the garden.