Do Butterflies Like Marigolds?


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As the weather warms the flowers begin to bloom, and with the flowers come the pollinators, perhaps the most widespread, beautiful, and welcoming of which are the butterflies. Like many gardeners, you’re probably wondering what flowers you can plant that will bring these delicate, colorful visitors to your wild yard. So what common garden flowers attract butterflies? Do butterflies like marigolds?

Butterflies love marigolds. These brightly-colored, long-lasting blossoms come in brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red, some of the colors butterflies are most attracted to. Marigolds give off a distinctive, spicy scent that butterflies love and they produce abundant amounts of nectar that will attract many pollinators.

Will marigolds attract butterflies?

There are two different varieties of flower that are commonly called “marigolds”; the pot, or common marigold (Caleundula officinalis), and the French, Aztec/Mexican, and sweet-scented marigolds (genus Tagetes). Both of these types of flowers are common garden plants and both of them are very attractive to butterflies. 

All types of marigolds have beautiful blossoms that come in different shades of yellow, orange, red, and combinations of all three – colors that are all very enticing to butterflies. The flowers are round, flat-topped, and sturdy, providing a comfortable place for butterflies to sit while they feed. 

In addition, while butterflies are not as attracted to scent as honey bees, they still prefer more fragrant flowers. And if you’ve ever been around marigolds, you know they have an unmistakable spicy, musky, slightly bitter aroma. This scent is off-putting to some animals and insects, but butterflies love it!

So this combination of color, shape, and scent all make marigolds excellent flowers for attracting butterflies.

What flowers do butterflies need to survive?

Butterflies need two types of flowers or plants to survive, depending on the stage of their lives; a host plant and a nectar plant. This is to do with their complex life cycle. 

A host plant is a plant on which butterflies lay their eggs and the plant on which the new caterpillars, or larvae, will feed. Butterflies begin their lives as worm-like, flightless caterpillars that feed almost entirely on the leaves, stems, and flowers of plants. While many gardeners are eager to court adult butterflies, they live in terror of the havoc many caterpillar species can wreck upon flower and food crops!  

After a few weeks or months, the caterpillars seal themselves into cocoons, eventually emerging as colorful, airborne butterflies. If you’re ever lucky enough to see a butterfly hatching from its cocoon, you might be alarmed by the red liquid covering it. Don’t worry, though, butterflies do not bleed when they hatch

Adult butterflies feed primarily on flower nectar, but will also sip on other sugary or salty liquids. This includes rotten fruit (butterflies particularly like oranges and bananas), muddy water, tree sap, and even bodily fluids. If you’ve ever had a butterfly land on your hand, it may have been trying to drink your salty sweat.

At this stage of their lives, butterflies need nectar plants; flowers that produce sweet, sugary nectar that butterflies eat to meet their high energy needs.  

Some plants, such as milkweed and verbena, are both host and nectar plants for butterflies. Marigolds are almost exclusively nectar plants; butterflies do not tend to use them as host plants (although they do serve as food for the larvae of many moth species, including the gothic moth and large yellow underwing).

However, as we’ll show below, some of the characteristics of marigolds make them excellent companion species for other host and nectar plants!

What makes marigolds great for butterfly gardens?

Marigolds are great nectar sources for butterflies, and their bright colors and rich scent are sure to bring them flocking. But there are other reasons you might consider adding marigolds to your butterfly garden.

All varieties of marigold are known to be excellent natural pest control. Many of the Tagetes marigolds produce secretions from their roots that kill harmful nematodes, such as the root-knot nematode. That delightful, spicy scent they emit is also said to repel flies, mosquitoes, ants, aphids, whiteflies, and greenflies. Finally, they attract beneficial insects, including ladybugs.

Calendula officinalis also has a reputation for attracting ladybugs and lacewings. It does not kill nematodes, and its repellent effect on other pests is less researched. In fact, it is known for the opposite; Calendula is very attractive to many pest species, including aphids and whitefly. 

This may sound like a negative, but you can plant these marigolds near more delicate or valuable flowers as a natural form of pest control. The pests will swarm to the marigolds and leave the rest of your garden alone!

As you can see, there are myriad reasons to add marigolds of any species to your butterfly garden. Not only are they a great nectar source for butterflies, but they will also help protect any nearby flowers from a variety of dangers.

What kind of butterflies are attracted to marigolds?

Some of the butterfly species you might see visiting your marigolds are:

  • Hayhurst’s scallopwing: a tiny brown butterfly common to the southern states.
  • The red admiral: a red and black butterfly that’s common across the northern hemisphere, one of the last butterflies you will see as the summer ends.
  • The American painted lady, or American lady: a large butterfly with dramatic eyespots on its underwings.
  • The sachem: a tiny, fast-moving, brown and orange butterfly. Blink and you’ll miss it!
  • The sleepy orange: a small butterfly whose color changes from apricot yellow to deep red as summer moves on to fall.
  • And of course, the stunning and increasingly rare monarch butterfly. Interestingly, both monarch butterflies and marigolds are associated with Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead! If you want to encourage monarchs in your garden, plant some milkweed along with your marigolds. Monarchs use milkweed as a host plant, but many species including the sachem, sleepy orange, and red admiral feed on milkweed nectar. It’s sure to increase the number of butterfly species you spot.

How do I grow marigolds?

Marigolds are widely considered one of the easiest garden flowers to grow. They love the heat, don’t mind dry conditions, and will tolerate most soil types. All you need is a sunny spot in your garden, and you’re good to go!

If you want to use marigolds as a form of natural pest control, they will need to be planted throughout your garden, interspersed between the rows of other plants.

To extend the flowering life of your marigolds, it’s best to deadhead them regularly. This will keep the plants producing more flowers to feed visiting butterflies.

Marigolds are one of the easiest and most common garden flowers to plant for butterflies, and the butterflies flock to them. But they also have enormous value as a companion plant and form of natural pest control, protecting other flowers from pests on the leaves and in the soil. Marigolds are therefore a great flower to add to your butterfly garden!

About The Author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

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