Painted Lady butterfly

Vanessa cardui

family - Nymphalidae

Image of Painted Lady butterfly

I think of the Painted Lady butterfly as "big and brown" but the predominent colour of the upperside of the wings is best described as orange/tan/pink. There are white markings against the dark brown/black edge of the wingtips. The underside of the wings are lighter-coloured than other common butterflies from the Nymphalidae family - mainly white and orange/tan/pink.

My personal observations of the Painted Lady butterfly

months seen in my garden: June, end July-October, most in August

garden plants that attract this species:
Buddleia, Ceratostigma, Escallonia, Hebe, Helichrysum, Heliotrope, Hemp Agrimony, Hyssop, Marigold, Red Valerian, Scabious, Sedum, Sweet William, Verbena, Zinnia

Butterfly sightings 2005:

First sighting of Painted Lady, 1 August
Painted Lady on Hebe, 5 August
Painted Lady on Verbena bonariensis at Berkeley Castle, 3 September
Painted Lady on Hemp agrimony at Coaley Peak, 3 September

Butterfly sightings 2004:

Painted Lady on Escallonia, 12 June

top 10 memorable images of 2003:

I have 90 digital images saved from 2003. Here's a selection of 10 (click on the thumbnail to view the full size image):

thumbnail link On Buddleia Nanho Blue. August 2.

thumbnail link On pink Hyssop. Side view. August 6.

thumbnail link On Buddleia. Side view. August 4.

thumbnail link Looking at the top of the wings from rear. Buddleia 'White Profusion' with edge of Comma wing in foreground. August 4.

thumbnail link Hanging upside down on Buddleia Nanho Blue. July 30.

thumbnail link Top view on Sedum spectabile. August 23.

thumbnail link From the back! July 30.

thumbnail link Side view on Verbena. August 5.

thumbnail link Another side view. August 12. Picture taken in the "cut flower garden" at Stourhead, Wilts. I think the plant is Zinnia.

thumbnail link I had read that Hemp Agrimony was a butterfly-attracting plant. Here's the blurry evidence; Small Tortoiseshell in the foreground. August 12.

A selection of images from previous years:

13 September 2002 on Scabious
9 September 2000 on Ceratostigma
15 August 2000 on Helichrysum
14 August 1999 on Buddleia
August 1998 on Hebe


If you'd like to try photographing butterflies, I recommend the Painted Lady butterfly as possibly the easiest to photograph.

Painted Lady butterflies like Buddleia and Verbena bonariensis in particular.

2003 was a good year for migrating Painted Lady butterflies and I recorded 8 sightings in June; in contrast, I didn't see a Painted Lady butterfly until August in 2002.

Reference Section

Size: 65mm (between Small White & Large White - see list of butterflies by size)

First Generation flight period: May-June
Second Generation flight period: August-September

This butterfly species is classed as a regular migrant. They come from North Africa - sometimes in great clouds apparently. Once here they produce the next generation but can not survive the cold of a traditional British winter (except for the odd one in Cornwall?)

Larval Food Plants: Thistles, Burdocks, Mallows & Nettles
Wild Nectar Plants: Hemp Agrimony

Family Group: Nymphalidae - see list of butterflies by family

This page last updated: 9 December, 2005