Twenty-five Kentucky native plants that attract birds and butterflies

If I could only have 25 plants in my backyard, these are the ones I would choose. They are attractive and hardy, supply nectar and pollen throughout the growing season, attract birds, butterflies, and other pollinators, and provide food for butterfly and moth caterpillars. This information is primarily from my experience and the Shooting Star Nursery catalog. You can also download this list as a 2-page chart (500KB PDF), or a 5-page list with pictures (800KB PDF).

Spring

lindera benzoinSpicebush (Lindera benzoin)
Type: shrub
Flowers: March-April
Height: 5-9’
Light preference: sun, shade
Moisture: avg
Note: Host for Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly
Redbud (Cercis canadensis) tree in bloomRedbud (Cercis canadensis)
Type: tree
Flowers: April
Height: 12-25’
Light preference: sun, part shade
Moisture: avg
Note: Early source of nectar
AquilegiaWild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Type: perennial
Flowers: May-June
Height: 1-2’
Light preference: shade, sun
Moisture: avg
Note: Attracts hummingbirds
vaccinium blossomsBlueberries (Vaccinium species)
Type: shrub
Flowers: May
Height: 3-4’
Light preference: sun, part shade
Moisture: avg
Note: Birds feed on berries; colorful fall foliage
lonicera semipervirensTrumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Type: vine
Flowers: April-Oct
Light preference: sun, light shade
Moisture: avg
Note: Red tubular flowers are a magnet for hummingbirds. The vine is not invasive
viburnum dentatum blossomsArrow-wood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)
Type: shrub
Flowers: April-May
Height: 4-15’
Light preference: sun, part shade
Moisture: avg
Note: Host for Tawny Emperor butterfly, birds enjoy berries
aristolochia tomentosaDutchman’s Pipevine (Aristolochia tomentosa)
Type: vine
Flowers: May-June
Light preference: sun, part shade
Moisture: avg
Note: Host for Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly; Aristolochia macrophylla similar species
Baptisia australisFalse Blue Indigo (Baptisia australis)
Type: perennial
Flowers: May-June
Height: 3-5’
Light preference: sun
Moisture: avg
Note: Showy blue flowers; attractive blue-green foliage
Itea virginicaVirginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)
Type: shrub
Flowers: May-June
Height: 3-6’
Light preference: sun, part shade
Moisture: avg
Note: Host for Azure butterfly, early nectar source
curly parsleyGolden Alexander (Zizia aurea) as well as non-native Parsley, Dill, Fennel, Carrots
Type: Golden Alexander is a native perennial
Height: 10-12”
Light preference: sun, part shade
Moisture: dry-moist
Note: Host plants for Black Swallowtail butterfly

Summer

cephalanthus occidentalisButton Bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
Type: shrub
Flowers: June-July
Height: 5-15’
Light preference: sun
Moisture: moist-avg
Note: Blossoms attract butterflies and other pollinators
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) on Scarlet Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)Scarlet Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
Type: perennial
Flowers: June
Height: 3-4’
Light preference: sun
Moisture: avg
Note: Red flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies
echinacea purpureaPurple Coneflower
Type: perennial
Flowers: June-August
Height: 3-4’
Light preference: sun, part shade
Moisture: avg
Note: Host for Silvery Checkerspot butterfly
asclepias syriacaCommon Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Type: perennial
Flowers: June
Height: 3-5’
Light preference: sun, part shade
Moisture: avg-moist
Note: Host for Monarch butterfly; excellent nectar source
asclepias purpurea and monarchPurple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurea)
Type: perennial
Flowers: June-July
Height: 2-3’
Light preference: sun
Moisture: avg-moist
Note: Host for Monarch butterfly
asclepias incarnataSwamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Type: perennial
Flowers: July-August
Height: 4-5’
Light preference: sun
Moisture: avg-moist
Note: Host for Monarch butterfly
Butterfly milkweedButterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Type: perennial
Flowers: June-July
Height: 2-3’
Light preference: sun
Moisture: avg
Note: Host for Monarch butterfly
asclepias curassavica and monarchTropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)
Type: Annual (non-native)
Flowers: July-frost
Height: 3-5’
Light preference: sun
Moisture: avg
Note: Host for Monarch butterfly
rudbeckia subtomentosaSweet Coneflower (Rudbeckia subtomentosa)
Type: Perennial
Flowers: July-Sept
Height: 3-4’
Light preference: sun, part shade
Moisture: avg
Note: Also called Sweet Susan; similar to Orange Coneflower – Rudbeckia fulgida
liatris speciesBlazing Stars (Liatris species)
Type: perennial
Flowers: June-Sept
Height: 3-6’
Light preference: sun
Moisture: avg
Note: Provides vertical interest; different species bloom at different times
silene regiaRoyal Catchfly (Silene regia)
Type: perennial
Flowers: July-August
Height: 3-4’
Light preference: sun
Moisture: avg
Note: Red flowers on tall stems attract hummingbirds

Fall

eupatorium coelestinumMist Flower (Eupatorium coelestinum)
Type: perennial
Flowers: Aug-Oct
Height: 2-3’
Light preference: sun, part shade
Moisture: avg-moist
Note: Excellent source of nectar late summer and fall
Euonymous americanus seed-podsHearts-a-Burstin’ (Euonymus americanus)
Type: shrub
Flowers: May-June
Height:
Light preference: sun, part shade
Moisture: avg-moist
Note: Also known as Strawberry Bush; has showy fall fruits
aster novae-angliaeNew England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)
Type: perennial
Flowers: Sept-Oct
Height: 4-5’
Light preference: sun
Moisture: avg
Note: All asters are hosts for Pearl Crescent butterfly
ilex verticillataWinterberry (Ilex verticillata)
Type: shrub
Flowers: berries/Oct
Height: 10-18’
Light preference: sun, part shade
Moisture: avg
Note: Need both male and female plants to get red berries which attracts birds

Resources:

Sources for Plants

Books

  • Bringing Nature Home – Douglas Tallamy has become a national spokesperson for the value of landscaping with native plants.
  • The Life Cycles of Butterflies – by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards. This book is especially helpful for those wanting to learn more about common Kentucky butterflies, host plants, and nectar plants.
  • Gardening for Birds – by Thomas Barnes. An excellent source of information about gardening for butterflies as well as birds.

 Websites

  • Wild Oneshttp://lexington.wildones.org/. This is the Lexington chapter of the national organization that encourages landscaping with native plants. Monthly meetings provide information and are open to the public.
  • North America Butterfly Associationhttp://www.naba.org/. An excellent source of information about butterflies.
  • Betty Hall Photographyhttp://www.bettyhallphotography.com/blog. My weekly blogs focus on my experiences with native plants in our backyard.