A recent study has demonstrated that late-season nectar plants are key to migrating butterflies and pollinators. You can enjoy blossoms through October by adding some of these beauties to your yard or natural area. Tough, tolerant, and lovely, try one for a burst of late summer and autumn flowers.
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
A terrific rain garden plant, Swamp Milkweed prefers full sun sites that have wet to average soils. Reaching about two to four feet high, it blooms beginning in July and August with rosy pink clusters of upright fragrant flowers. Forming colonies when conditions are right, it is a host plant for Monarch butterflies. Other pollinators find it attractive, including the occasional Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
The aster family offers some of the biggest benefits to pollinators including butterflies. Blooming beginning in late summer and into late fall, their small daisy-like flowers pack a big nectar punch. Several butterflies and moths use them as larval food. A couple of the more unusual asters to try include Big-leaved Aster (Eurybia macrophylla). It is an aster of the forest and savanna and does best in part to full shade in average to dry well-drained soils. Enjoy its large starry lavender-white flowers August into October. Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) explodes into clouds of tiny white flowers in August in full sun to part shade. It thrives in dry to average soils and has a bushy habit with small leaves.
False Boneset (Brickellia eupatorioides)
False Boneset features clustered tufts of white flowers above slightly hairy green stalks with alternate lanceolate leaves. Reaching between 18 inches and three feet in height, it prefers full sun to part shade situations in poor soils such as clay, sand or gravel. Beloved by butterflies, moths, bees and other pollinators.
White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
White Turtlehead is an upright perennial with lanceolate leaves and pyramidal flower clusters atop individual stems. It prefers full sun situations with wet to wet-average soils. Blooming for most of the summer into fall, the large tubular flowers resemble the heads of turtles. Flowers are visited by bees and the occasional Ruby-throated Hummingbird. It is the larval food for the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly.
Goldenrods light up the early autumn prairies and woodlands with plumes of rich golden flowers buzzing with pollinators. They are the host plant for many moth species and butterflies can be found browsing the flowers. Some less common Goldenrods include ZigZag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis). It is commonly found in forests and has a more open flowering habit along zigzag stems. Early Goldenrod (Solidago juncea) begins blooming in June and continues well into September. Its pyramidal plume of airy yellow flowers thrive in full sun to part shade in dry to average soils.
Round-headed Bush Clover (Lespedeza capitata)
Round-headed Bush Clover, reaches about two to four feet high and a pollinator magnet. Not particularly show during the season, its seedheads are a sought after seed source for songbirds and are excellent in dried arrangements. Round-headed Bush Clover thrives in full sun to part shade in average to dry soils. A larval host to several skipper butterflies.
Savanna Blazing Star (Liatris scariosa var. nieuwlandii)
A lovely prairie plant reaching about two feet tall with flower spikes covered in large clusters of violet florets, Savanna Blazing Star, flowers later than others, beginning in August. Visited by pollinators of all kinds, especially Monarch butterflies, this blazing star prefers average to dry soils, and is drought tolerant once established. A must for the cottage and butterfly garden.
Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana)
Even though it prefers to have its feet wet, Obedient Plant is tolerant of a wide range of soil moisture conditions, making it a good rain garden plant for its tolerance to inundation. The attractive, tubular, and pink flowers bloom in late summer, starting at the bottom of the raceme and moving upwards. The name comes from the fact that the flowers can be rotated around the flower stalk of the plant and hold their position. It reaches about two to three feet high and does well in full sun to part shade.
Sweet Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia submentosa)
Sweet Black-eyed Susan is distinguished by its toothed lobed leaves and the mild anise scent of its yellow daisy flowers. Reaching about five feet high, it is an excellent back of the border or tall prairie plant. Native to prairies and savannas, it will thrive in most soils in full sun to part shade, but does best with lower fertilization. Beloved of pollinators, it is a larval host for Silvery Checkerspot butterflies and a handful of moths.
Tall Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea)
Tall Ironweed is a late blooming member of the Aster family. Its vibrant purple flowers cluster at the ends of multiple branches. It is very adaptable and its common name refers to the toughness of the stem, which makes it very difficult to dig up with a shovel. Many pollinators, especially native bees, benefit from this beautiful, hardy perennial. Tall Ironweed thrives in full sun in moist to average soils.