Providing nectar for butterflies in Winter

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I have often been asked “What flowers in winter to provide nectar for our butterflies’?

It’s difficult to run a list off the tongue but the following are usually in flower… Pansies, primula, polyanthus and violas, but the more demure species were there in their less obvious outfits.

In the shady corners were the hellebores or so called ‘winter roses’ with their subtle greens and deep reds. I love these treasures and although I have never seen a butterfly on them in July, they are so very pretty and reliable with their generous show of flowers.

The bright green bracts of Euphorbia wulfenii were evident showing up beautifully against a dark fence providing a foil for more brightly coloured showstoppers if you’re lucky enough to have any. If subtle colours aren’t your thing then there are the Argyranthemum daisies with their reliable winter show, and the hot colours of polyanthus, geums, gaillardia and pansies.

Annual wallflowers and their cousins the perennial cheiranthus are very hard to beat if you’re looking for butterfly fodder in mid-winter. Both flower reliably only during the colder months. Linaria is an annual winter charmer that will self seed around the perennials and shrubs during the coldest months when all around is dormant. Linaria flowers shyly at first from around May/June and reaches a crescendo in early spring. As soon as the spring warmth begins again Linaria will shrivel and vanish just as the spring glory begins.

Shrubs give substance and structure to the winter garden. There were a number of flowers evident on hebes, kowhai, (Sophora molloyi ‘Dragons Gold’), and Vireya Rhododendrons growing under the frost cover provided by tall evergreen camellias.

I have often seen over-wintering monarchs nectar feeding on camellia during winter. Buddleia auriculata, valuable for its winter flowers, was covered in insects buzzing each other for space on their nectar-collecting rounds. If Yellow Admirals are around then Buddleia auriculata is where they will be seen taking nectar on a still sunny day in winter.

Tree lucerne or tagasaste (Chamaecytisus palmensis), was in full flower and the flowers and seedpods will provide homes to the larvae of our blue butterflies Zizina labradus.
Urtica urens nettle was flowering and full of Admiral butterfly larvae jostling for space with their tell-tale tents made from leaves pulled together.

I haven’t seen butterflies on my winter bulb flowers, but I do welcome early narcissus ‘Erlicheer’ for its fantastic scent. Other early daffodils, tulips, Snowflake (Leucojum vernum) and the earliest of the sparaxis bring visual cheer on the coldest of days.

There are many other flowers for winter and a search on the website of the Moths and Butterflies of NZ Trust for midwinter nectar or winter flowers will bring many other ideas.

Written by Jane Carver for Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust. For more information about Butterflies or to become a MBNZT member pleases visit



euphorbia cheiranthus
Yellow green flower bracts of Euphorbia wulfeni with purple Cheiranthus behind

Linaria purpurea
Linaria purpurea

monarch daphne
Monarch butterfly on Daphne odora 'Alba'

vireya rhododendron
Vireya rhododendron 'Golden Charm'

camellia jamie
Camellia 'Jamie'

butterfly yellow admiral
Yellow Admiral on Physocarpus