Pentas: A Perfect Plant for Butterfly Gardens

Learn how to grow pentas, also known as starflower. This colorful, easy-to-grow annual is a swallowtail butterfly and hummingbird favorite.

pentas is also known as starflowerCourtesy Lois Posey
Swallowtail butterflies are particularly drawn to these blooms.

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. Few plants fit this bill. At the top of the list is Pentas lanceolata, known more commonly as pentas or starflower.

Check out the best monarch butterfly flowers you should grow.

How to Grow Pentas Plants

pentas flowers and monarch butterflyCourtesy Thomas Stanmore
Monarch butterfly on pentas 

In most of the country, pentas plants are grown as annuals. That said, you can overwinter them in zones without frost. They’re readily available in most areas, and very easy to grow. The clusters of tiny star-shaped flowers are laden with nectar.

Although pentas are not native to North America, I don’t know of any place in the U.S. where they’re considered invasive. The cultivated versions sold here rarely re-seed themselves. You can buy seed from catalogs and online retailers, but the germination and seedling growing process can be difficult. You’re better off just buying nice bedding plants from your local nursery.

Deadheading isn’t necessary, but removing spent blooms will ensure more flowers all summer.

pentas flowersCourtesy Sandra Lemay
Gulf fritillary enjoys the summer nectar of the red flowers.

Scientific namePentas lanceolata
Zones: 10 to 11, annual elsewhere
Light: Full sun
Size: Grows up to 3 feet tall
Attracts: Butterflies and hummingbirds

Benefits of Growing Pentas

Pentas Lucky StarALAN OLANDER/SHUTTERSTOCK
Lucky Star Raspberry pentas

Swallowtails, especially, love the nectar-rich, star-shaped flowers. You’ll find shades of red, pink, purple, and white. All are attractive to butterflies, though many report that red is the most popular.

Pentas plants are available in traditional and dwarf varieties like Lucky Star Raspberry. The traditional varieties can reach 2 to 3 feet in height and get a little sprawling. Dwarf varieties stay compact, and top out around 12 to 15 inches. Read plant tags carefully and choose the variety best for your location.

Next, discover 6 go-to flowers you should plant in your butterfly garden.

Jill Staake
Jill Staake's lifelong love of nature turned into a career during the years she spent working with native Florida butterflies, caterpillars, and other wildlife at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa, Florida. During this time, she helped to maintain 30+ acres of gardens and backwoods, all carefully cultivated to support the more than 20 species of butterflies displayed indoors and out. She now writes for a variety of publications and sites on topics like gardening and birding, among others.