Pentas: Perfect in Butterfly Gardens

At the butterfly garden where I work, I get asked pretty much every day which nectar flowers are best for butterflies. There are a few plants that fit this bill very well, and at the top of the list is Pentas lanceolata, known more commonly as Penta or Starflower.

At the butterfly garden where I work, I get asked pretty much every day which nectar flowers are best for butterflies. There are many ways to define “best”, of course, but what most of my guests are looking for is a plant that’s easy to grow, easy to find at plant nurseries, and attractive to both people and butterflies. There are a few plants that fit this bill very well, and at the top of the list is Pentas lanceolata, known more commonly as Penta or Starflower.

In most of the country, pentas are grown as an annual, though you can overwinter them in zones without frost. They’re readily available in nurseries in most areas, and very easy to grow. The clusters of tiny star-shaped flowers are laden with nectar, and butterflies of all sizes love to visit them. Though pentas are not native (they come from Africa and Arabia), I don’t know of any place in the U.S. where they’re considered invasive, since the cultivated versions sold here rarely re-seed themselves. Seed is available from catalogs and online, but the germination and seedling growing process can be difficult, so you’re better off just buying nice bedding plants from your local nursery.

Growing Tips:

  • Pentas are available in traditional and dwarf varieties. The traditional varieties can reach 2 – 3 feet in height and get a little sprawling, while dwarf varieties stay compact and top out around 12 – 15 inches. Read tags carefully and choose the variety best for your location.
  • Pentas are fairly easy to grow, but do require regular deadheading to look their best and flower well.
  • Grow pentas in full to part sun, and provide regular water especially as they establish. They grow well both in the ground and in containers.
  • You’ll find pentas in reds, pinks, purples, and white. All shades are attractive to butterflies, though many report that red is the most popular, and is also known to attract hummingbirds.

Do you grow pentas for butterflies and hummingbirds? Give us your tips in the comments below.

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.