If you live in Florida and have a garden, you may consider adding some butterfly-friendly plants. Florida has some of the most beautiful butterflies in the country, and you can enjoy them practically year-round when walking through your garden. With more people moving to Florida every day, it is essential that humans share nature with creatures that have always been here. We can do so by providing suitable habitat and resources. While making a butterfly garden is not a substitute for conserving natural habitat, it is the next best thing we can do to help butterflies thrive.
From a butterfly’s point of view, plants are divided into two important categories: nectar plants and host plants. Sometimes the two are the same, like in the case of Monarchs and milkweeds. Monarchs need milkweed plants to lay their eggs on, so that their caterpillars can feed on their leaves and flowers, but Monarchs also favor their flowers as adult butterflies when looking for nectar. While milkweed flowers are liked for their nectar by many butterflies such as Giant and Zebra Swallowtails or Gulf Fritillaries, their leaves are protected by chemicals and only milkweed butterflies – Monarchs, Queens and Soldiers – can feed on them as caterpillars. Because of their multiple uses and popularity with many butterfly species, milkweeds are a great selection when starting a butterfly garden.
A second cornerstone for a Florida butterfly garden are Passion vines. Two beautiful species of butterflies – Zebra Longwings and Gulf Fritillaries – their eggs and develop on passion vines. Gulf Fritillaries also come to passion flowers for nectar. Passion flowers are also beautiful, fragrant and provide food for many pollinators. Both milkweeds and passion vines should be planted in good supply as caterpillars in their last stages consume large amounts of leaves. But even if these plants are eaten all the way to their stems, they will grow back from the roots. The same is true for pipevine, the hostplant of the Polydamas Swallowtail.
You can save yourself some time and trouble weeding because some species that are considered weeds, like plantago, are the preferred food of butterflies. Plantago is favored by the common buckeye caterpillars and the adult buckeyes are among the most beautiful and common butterflies found in Florida. Buckeyes will also feed on turkey tangle fogfruit as a native alternative. Another common weed that is greatly favored by butterflies as a nectar source is Bidens, which is known by many names, including butterfly needles. While its seeds may be annoying, the flowers are both pretty and are a good source of nectar.
In addition to Polydamas Swallowtail, Florida has several other more common swallowtail species, and they are among the most noticeable because of their size. As caterpillars, the spicebush swallowtail feeds on Sassafras but also will feed on the invasive camphor tree. Giant Swallowtail feeds on plants in the citrus family. While it will lay eggs on your orange and lemon trees, it prefers torchwood, wild lime and Hercules club. Zebra swallowtails will only feed on different species of Paw-Paw. The Black swallowtail likes fennel, parsley, dill, and carrots. The Tiger Swallowtail lays eggs on trees such as cherry or sweetbay, but flowers like azaleas or Buddleia, also known as butterfly bush, will attract them to your garden from a nearby park or forest.
Because different flowers bloom at different times of the year and of the day, it is great to have a variety in your garden. Golden Dew Drops, Pentas, Azaleas, Lantanas and Mexican Heathers are all great nectar sources for larger butterflies. To attract small butterflies such as hairstreaks, blues and skippers, Sweet Almond Bush or white clover may be better.
Occasionally, one can see hummingbirds and hawkmoths that resemble hummingbirds visiting gardens. Hummingbirds love flowers that are colored red and have deep corollas, such as the Florida native Corral Bean, Bottlebrush plant, and red salvias. While moths are known to most as being nocturnal, a clearwing sphinx moth will come to the garden in broad daylight, and some of its relatives feed at dusk.
Good soil, sun and water will contribute to a good garden, but many butterfly plants will do well even in the shade. To choose butterfly-friendly plants that are right for your garden, or if you are interested in help with starting a school butterfly garden, visit the Florida Museum of Natural History website.
IF YOU GO
A Celebration of Wings, Wildlife and Biodiversity!
ButterflyFest – Oct. 13, 2018
Plant Sale – Oct. 12-14, 2018
ButterflyFest is an annual FREE festival to celebrate backyard wildlife with an emphasis on pollinators.
Florida Museum of Natural History
3215 Hull Road