Butterfly gardening can be one of the most rewarding hobbies you could consider! Not only can you grow plants that reward you with beautiful flowers, they will attract butterflies if the right ones are planted. Butterflies need a combination of “larval host plants” (plants on which they lay the eggs and which caterpillars eat) and nectar plants (plants from which adult butterflies get food). Plants and butterflies have co-evolved; hence specific larval host plants support specific caterpillars. Adult butterflies seem to be more eclectic in their nectar plant choices, but size and structure of the butterfly and its proboscis have to fit with the nectar-producing flower.
Two or three decades ago in South Florida, butterfly gardens were rare. We had come to understand the value of native plants and knew that birds would respond to native gardens. Butterflies, however, had not come into sharp focus by most of us. Now, butterfly gardening is big. Libraries have butterfly gardens; schools have butterfly gardens; parks have butterfly gardens. Some of them, such as the Lisa D. Anness Butterfly Garden at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, is very large and offers an abundant menu of caterpillar food plants and nectar plants for butterflies. Definitely worth a visit for anyone considering butterfly gardening in South Florida! These public plantings are great places for us, the home gardeners, to glean ideas for design and to see examples of butterfly plants – how big they grow, whether they require shade, or sun, or tolerate both, and which butterflies can be found using them.
A good butterfly gardening reference book or two will also become well used. In choosing books, try to find ones that relate to your area and horticultural zone—or at least to your state. Remember that not all plants grow in all areas, and moreover, the same plant in one latitude or longitude may be a butterfly-attracting plant, but not so in another latitude or longitude. For some books that are useful to Florida butterfly gardeners, check www.miamiblue.org/books.php.
Visits to local plant nurseries afford opportunity to both learn about and obtain butterfly plants. While many butterflies can use non-native plants, such as some of the exotic passion vines, when there is choice, they often seem to prefer the native species. For many other reasons, it is beneficial to choose native plants as they are adapted to our wet and dry seasons, our soil conditions and our temperature extremes. Thus, native plants are typically less demanding of water and chemicals and often don’t “run wild” to the degree that many exotic plants do. We encourage the liberal, if not exclusive, use of Florida native plants in butterfly gardens for both caterpillar food and nectar.
For a complete list of butterflies and their South Florida host plants, visit our web site, www.miamiblue.org. Click on the tab that says plants. The list is sorted by butterfly and by scientific name of plant.
For starters, here's Linda's nominations for best plants for our area:
Top Gardening Plants
Host plants: Native
Spanish Needles – Bidens alba
Locustberry –Byrsonima lucida
Coontie – Zamia integrifolia
Wild Sensitive Plant – Senna Mexicana var. Chapmanii
Yellowwood - Zanthroxylum flavum
Corkystem Passionvine – Passiflora suberosa
Creeping Charlie – Phyla nodiflora
Nectar Plants: Native
Wild Coffee – Psychotria nervosa
Bahama Strongbark – Bourreria succulenta
Butterfly Sage – Cordia globosa
Firebush – Hamelia patens
Lantana – Lantana depressa, Lantana involucrata
Little Strongbark – Bourreria cassinifolia
Blue Porterweed – Stachytarpheta jamaicensis
Host Plants: Non-Native
Parsley – Petroselinum crispum
Dill – Anethum graveolens
Fennell – Foeniculum volgare
Mexican Milkweed – Asclepias curassavica
Nectar Plants: Non-Native
Moujean tea – Nashia inauguensis
Pentas – Pentas sp.
Butterfly Bush – Buddleja spp.
We would like to hear from you!
- Do you have a list of your “top 5 or 10” favorite butterfly plants?
- What are your butterfly gardening experiences? Your successes and your frustrations?
- Do you have experience with butterfly plants on terraces and balconies and, if so, at what height from the ground?
- Have you butterfly gardened in very small yards, courtyards, or patios, and what advice would you offer those in similar situations?
- What butterflies frequent your garden and which plants do they use?
- Have you found chrysalises in interesting or unusual places?