16 best plants to attract butterflies in Miami
Butterfly gardens are easy to create and butterflies bring joy every time they flutter by.
So, if you love butterflies and if you enjoy having nature around your home, then install a butterfly garden. Butterfly gardening not only brings butterflies but also a small host of other wonderful wildlife to your doorstep.
South Florida, Miami, and all of the surrounding cities and suburbs of Dade and Broward counties are perfect spots to create a year round and fully functioning butterfly garden. Caterpillars, which transform into butterflies, require special kinds of plants to feed upon and these plants grow extremely well in the South Florida subtropic planting zones. These are called host plants.
These host plants are amazing sources of nectar and other flowers that provide food for those winged beauties. In this article we'll highlight our 16 favorite plants to attract butterflies.
Firebush, Hamelia patens, is native to Florida and perfect for South Florida and the Miami area. This beautiful perennial grows year-round in our subtropic heat and produces flowers from late spring until the first frost (as if there were frost in Miami!). This semi-woody shrub can reach 15 feet in height and produces bright red flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies, including the zebra longwing and gulf fritillary butterflies.
The Hamelia patens grows and flowers best in full sun and it's best to trim your Firebush to 5 or 8 feet tall. It works well in hedges, mixed borders, or as a standalone shrub. Firebush can be planted in any well-drained soil and will do best if it's watered regularly until it's established. Once this native South Florida plant has caught hold, it's amazing at attracting both birds and butterflies.
Firespike is known botanically as Odontonema strictum and adds a bright red pop to your South Florida garden. It's perfect for attracting hummingbirds and several species of butterflies that feed on the nectar. The Odontonema strictum grows between 4 to 6 feet tall and produces clusters of 3-inch-long, tubular red flowers.
Firespike can be planted year-round in Florida and blooms best under full sun.
3. Ruby red
This ruby red pentas, also known as Egyptian star cluster and Pentas lanceolata, is a South Florida plant that produces some of the most vivid red flowers of any of the pentas.
It blossoms from spring until fall and bears 3-inch flower clusters that will attract butterflies and other nectar loving creatures like bees and hummingbirds to your gardens throughout summer. The ruby red is an upright rounded shrub-like tropical perennial that is often grown as an annual.
4. Blue porterweed
Blue porterweed, also known as Stachytarpheta jamaicensis, is one of the most popular of South Florida's butterfly attracting plants, with brilliant blue flowers appearing partway up the funky, swirly, upright stems. This plant is a fast grower and best kept between 2½ to 3 feet tall.
The blue porterweed is best in part sun and partial shaded areas. Trim the shrub occasionally to keep it shaped. Give these plants a regular watering, but don't keep them overly wet.
5. Jatropha tree
The Jatropha integerrima, aka Jatropha tree, produces scarlet flowers which attract a ton of beautiful butterflies and it blooms 365 days a year.
The dwarf Jatropha tree (Jatropha integerrima 'Compacta') is the one to buy... it stays smaller and denser and is the one most commonly sold at nurseries. This red flowering tree is actually a Jatropha shrub and can be trained to a single trunk or grown as a bush. Keep the trunk free of baby shoots to maintain the tree look.
One of South Florida's most consistent butterfly attracting plants, Jatropha is also a favorite with hummingbirds. This tree is a fast grower – the dwarf variety gets only 6 to 8 feet tall. It needs full to part sun and a well-drained spot.
6. Ruellia brittoniana
Ruellia brittoniana, the Mexican petunia, is a tender evergreen perennial that forms colonies of small and medium sized stalks, and has a maximum height of around 3 feet. The lance-shaped leaves are to 6 to 12 inches in length and ½ to ¾ inch wide.
It blossoms scores of beautiful blue, trumpet-shaped flowers that accent the bluish metallic cast the leaves give when grown under hot sunny conditions. This Mexican petunia is very good at attracting swarms of admiring butterflies. Varieties with white, pink, and many shades of blue are available, as are dwarf versions.
7. Almond bush
The flowering almond bush (Prunus glandulosa and Prunus triloba) put on a spectacular show in the garden, which makes this a great butterfly and natural wildlife attractor. For smaller areas, choose the P. glandulosa, or dwarf flowering almond, as it grows between 4 to 6 feet tall and equally wide. The almond bush produces white or pink flowers in mid-spring.
Select a planting site that receives full sun to partial shade. Flowering almond prefers a loamy soil that drains well, but keep away from salty water and salt saturated air.
8. Turk’s cap
The Turk’s cap is also known as the Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii. It's a spreading shrub that grows between 2 to 3 feet, but it can reach heights of 9 feet if left unattended. The bright red petals resemble a Turkish turban, thus the name Turk’s cap. The flowers never fully open. They overlap to form a loose tube with a protruding staminal column. This is a perfect flower type for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other nectar gathering insects.
Milkweed is the king plant for the king of butterflies, the monarch. It's also very important for many other insect species, like milkweed bugs, and milkweed leaf beetles that only eat milkweed.
Common milkweed grows up to 6 feet tall. It has large, broad leaves, usually 4 to 10 inches long. They sometimes have red veins and flowers in pinkish-purple clusters which often droop. They're very hardy plants and grow nearly anywhere in any condition.
10. Purple passionflower & purple passion vine
Purple passion flower, also known as the Passiflora incarnate, is a herbaceous vine that can climb and sprawl up to 25 feet. Local wildlife such as butterflies, moths, bees and more love this plant.
BONUS: This passion flower plant produces a delicious edible fruit.
11. Cassia trees
Cassia trees are known for their bright yellow insect attracting display. These trees come in several varieties and sizes: Desert cassia, Cassia surattensis ('Scrambled Egg Tree') and Cassia fistula ('Golden Shower Tree'). All three varieties are incredibly beautiful in full bloom and they make perfect small-space trees.
Desert cassia (Senna polyphylla) grows to only 10 feet tall with spring and fall flowers. This little giant is salt-tolerant, evergreen, and an ideal centerpiece for your butterfly garden.
Cassia surattensis grows between 12 to 15 feet high. It's another butterfly attractor that blooms twice – in spring and fall. It stays green with thick foliage year-round. This tree is very happy in South Florida.
Cassia fistula blooms in summer and occasionally blooms in the fall. It produces incredible cascading flower clusters that sometimes are so prolific you can barely see the green leaves through the flowers.
Fistula can grow to heights of 30 feet, but can be easily maintained at 20 feet in home landscapes. They're salt-tolerant and fast growers.
12. Pagoda flower
The Pagoda flower, also known as the Clerodendrum paniculatum, is an erect, open, semi-woody shrub with large evergreen leaves and huge clusters of orange-red or scarlet flowers. It's a bush with multiple stems and grows between 3 and 5 feet, spreading 2 to 3 feet across.
The leaves have heart shaped bases and the individual flowers are only about ½ inch long, but are arranged in massive panicles up to 1 feet or more in height. The pyramid-shaped flowers are somewhat like that of a Japanese pagoda. The flower blooms from summer through autumn with additional sporadic flowering throughout the year in warmer environments like South Florida.
Lantana is a genus of about 150 species of perennial flowering plants. The genus includes both herbaceous plants and shrubs growing between 1.6 and 6.6 feet tall. Their common names are shrub verbenas or lantanas, or they're also called the Viburnum lantana. Lantana's aromatic flower clusters (called 'umbels') are a mix of red, orange, yellow, or blue and white florets.
Lantanas are useful as honey plants for nectar seeking insects and are excellent for butterfly gardening. Butterflies that are attracted to lantana flowers are most notably Papilioninae (swallowtail and birdwing butterflies). Hesperiidae (skippers), and certain brush-footed butterflies (namely Danainae and Heliconiinae), as well as some Pieridae (e.g. cloudless sulphur, Phoebis sennae) and Lycaenidae (e.g. the aforementioned lantana scrub-hairstreak), also like to visit this plant's flowers.
14. Plumbago auriculata
Plumbago auriculata is called by several common names, including leadwort, plumbago, and skyflower. It's an evergreen shrub with semi-woody stems that grow between 3 to 10 feet in height. Plumbago can be pruned to grow like a vine, pruned to become more compact like a shrub, or left to sprawl with its long, gracefully arching branches. It produces 2-inch light yellowish green leaves and a sky blue flower that's about 1 inch long with five petals spreading about 1 inch across. In South Florida and Miami this beauty blooms all year long.
A white flowered variety (P. auriculata var. alba) is available. The cultivar 'Royal Cape' has intense cobalt blue flowers. A favorite of butterflies, plumbago also is one of the most popular flowering shrubs in Central and South Florida gardens. It is very fast-growing, has few problems, and is almost always smiling.
Plumbago does best in light, sandy soils with good drainage. Do not add lime to the soil; plumbago likes a slightly acidic pH.
As a South Florida gardener, you should take the time to discover the Florida coontie. It's a Florida native plant that's well adapted to the South Florida heat. Its recent increased use in landscapes has encouraged the presence of the rare Atala butterfly, which uses coontie as a larval host plant.
The coontie, an unusual Florida native, is a cycad – a 'living fossil.' These primitive plants were a dominant form of plant life during the dinosaur age.
Some botanists report only a single coontie species in Florida (Zamia floridana), while others feel the coontie has several species such as Z. integrifolia, Z. pumila, and Z. umbrosa. This herbaceous plant looks like a small fern or palm. Typically they're 1 to 3 feet high. The coontie has stiff, featherlike leaves, up to 3 feet in length.
The coontie serves as the sole host plant for larvae of the rare atala butterfly (Eumaeus atala), once thought to be extinct in Florida. The hungry larvae are able to withstand the coontie's natural toxins and, in turn, incorporate them into their tissues, rendering the larvae and adults unpalatable to various predators, particularly birds.
16. Corky stem passion vine
The Passiflora suberosa is commonly known as the corky stem passion vine. It gets tiny green flowers that are about the size of an adult fingertip. Planting this passion vine is one of the easiest ways to make your yard a butterfly habitat for some of the following major butterflies: zebra heliconian, gulf fritillary and Dryas iulia.
Create a butterfly garden of your own
So there you have it, folks! A highlight of the best plants to attract butterflies to your Miami garden. No matter what county or city in South Florida you may live (Broward County, Dade County, Miami, Coral Gables, Davie, Ft Lauderdale or anything in between), these plants will surely attract dozens, if not hundreds, of beautiful and colorful butterflies to your home or office garden.
Want your own butterfly garden but don't have the time? Give us a call. We love butterflies and will perform a professional install in no time at all.