Attract BUTTERFLIES to your garden with these flowering plants!

Bring your garden to life by transforming it into a haven for butterflies.

Not only is the aerial ballet of these beautiful flying insects in the garden a wonderful source of joy for all; the plants that attract lovely butterflies usually bear gorgeous flowers. Bonus!

Another advantage of having these fluttering creatures in the garden, is that they act as pollinators of flowering plants.

Isn’t it strange, then, that we spend so much time and money on eradicating caterpillars? Without caterpillars there can be no butterflies…

Photo credit: @bricksnblooms 

Planting for butterflies:

Butterflies require heat in order to be active (to warm their bodies), so they will love a north-facing bed of butterfly-friendly plants.

Protection from the wind is also important and a garden with trees and shrubs to break the force of the wind will make life easier for these winged creatures.

Planting in groups is best as mass plantings have more chance of attracting butterflies.

Avoid using pesticides in your garden as butterflies are sensitive to poisons.

Choose plants with long flowering periods and those with blue to mauve, red or pink flowers, and to a lesser extent, white.

Go for indigenous plants as these are usually the butterflies’ first choice.




Butterflies have two main plant requirements:

*Nectar for the adults

*Host plants for the caterpillars

Nectar plants:

A variety of nectar plants is available and includes indigenous and exotic varieties:

 The sweet thorn (Vachellia karroo) produces attractive, bright yellow flowers several times during the summer;

the pompon tree (Dais cotinifolia) produces masses of pink flowers in summer full of delicious nectar;

the Buddleja species are also excellent nectar plants.

Other suitable shrubs include the Cape leadwort (Plumbago auriculata), Plectranthus species, ribbon bush (Hypoestes aristata), pelargoniums, vygies, Scabiosa and Barleria species.

Exotic species such as bottlebrush and yesterday-today-and-tomorrow are also excellent nectar feeders.


A range of flowering perennials and annuals can be included at the front of the bed that will also provide nectar. These include indigenous varieties like the kingfisher daisy (Felicia amelloides), red hot pokers (Kniphofia), wild dagga (Leonotis), wild garlic (Tulbaghia violacea), and gazanias. The exotic allysums, calendulas, impatiens, and delphiniums attract an amazing number of butterflies to their sweet flowers.

Plants for the caterpillars:

Host plants are specific to each butterfly variety that may only lay eggs on one or two species. Providing plants like the milkweed, white ironwood, wild peach (Kiggelaria africana) and plectranthus species will ensure that some of these brightly coloured insects will use the garden more.


Common Butterflies in our gardens:

Garden Acraea:

The garden Acraea is quite common, but often overlooked as it is fairly drab in appearance. These butterflies lay their masses of eggs on the wild peach tree (Kiggelaria africana) and other related plant species during the summer months. Its larvae can strip a tree of its leaves in a very short time, although this defoliation doesn’t appear to harm the tree apart from giving it a tattered appearance. Most birds leave them alone, but cuckoos are partial to them and will be attracted to your garden if you have a wild peach covered with juicy caterpillars! Once the caterpillars have reached their full size, they pupate – often on the walls of houses. The adult butterfly emerges after about 14 days. These butterflies can be seen during most months of the year.


Photo credit:

Citrus swallowtail:

The citrus swallowtail butterfly is another common resident in the region. Its black and yellow coloration makes it unmistakable in the garden. In urban settings the adult butterfly will lay eggs on citrus-tree leaves, on the underside of leaves. The larvae hatch after about 5 days. They have two “feelers” just behind the head, which is red in colour, emit a strong smell and are protruded when the worm is threatened.

After a feeding frenzy, they spin a silk harness onto which they hang while they pupate. The adult butterfly emerges after about 2 weeks in warm weather (during colder months the butterfly will remain in pupa form, emerging only when the weather warms up).

 Photo credit: Alan Rudnicki

Attracting butterflies to your garden is a particularly lovely way to ‘go green’. The plants that attract these insects usually bear gorgeous flowers and the resulting influx of delicate, flitting wings brings a new dimension of beauty to your garden.

Come have a look at the lovely butterfly plant options at Cape Garden: Joostenbergvlakte / Stellenbosch / Somerset west 



Gardening with Nature: Roy Trendler, Peter Chadwick