Monday, June 28, 2010

How Could It Be? Someone Raises Doubt About Butterfly Gardening? by Elane Nuehring

Above, Mikania scandens attracts many butterflies, bees, wasps and other insects.

All in one week-end, I visited an extraordinary new butterfly garden in Kendall (check for a garden visit there in August) AND read a think-piece questioning butterfly gardening. Now, butterfly gardening is a little like "Mom and apple pie" -- right? Who would question its essential worth? Well...on the web of the Florida Native Plant Society, Steve Woodmansee, one of our own favorite Butterfly Days speakers, asks about the value of butterfly gardens. He points out their benefits -- but he also asks us to consider their limitations -- and think bigger. Think beyond big, macro butterflies....think beyond butterflies for that matter. Read it and see what you think: go to and scroll down to see Steve's article (it is in two parts).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Chilly winds blew no harm, it seems! by Elane Nuehring

Dingy Purplewing

In 2009's winter and 2010's early spring, we saw unusual dips in temperature and we worried about the butterflies and their host plants. In a few cases, in natural areas, wild fires created even more damage to butterflies and plants. Then the rains came and summer's steamy heat ensured ... and WOW, the butterflies are back! Our butterfly gardens are buzzing. Rarities like Bartram's Scrub Hairstreak, which were nowhere to be found in April, are, for them, out and about in in good numbers. The NABA summer counts, held in June and July, have so far produced exceptionally good numbers of species. On June 26, 2010, the Deering Estate at Cutler was hopping with specialties such as Dina Yellows, Ruddy Daggerwings, and Dingy Purplewings. Earlier in the month, on June 19, Loop Road was great. Our Miami Blue Chapter monthly survey of Tamiami Pineland Addition has produced swarms of Southern Skipperlings and Ceraunus Blues, along with Variegated Fritillaries (not usual in heavily developed areas) and an American Lady.

So why all this abundance of butterflies after the severest winter in many a year in South Florida? Maybe the cold inhibited some problem predators and/or parasitoids? Maybe the cold somehow boosted plant production and lots of new growth once rain and heat returned. Whatever the reasons, 2010 seems to have been a banner year for many species....although the Atalas are still among the missing or near-missing in many of their usual haunts, Miami Blues at Bahia Honda State Park are not being seen, and the Florida Leafwing, holding out at Everglades National Park, continues to be scarce.

Let us know what you're seeing in your gardens and on your rambles!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Milkweeds in Your Garden by Linda Evans

Above: Mexican Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)

Many butterflies choose toxic host plants. When Monarchs, Queens, and Soldiers eat the leaves of milkweeds, they eat some of the toxins as well. If a bird eats, for example, a Monarch caterpillar or butterfly, it spits it out and avoids the Monarch and similar looking butterflies as their tasty treat. This is one of the protective mechanisms nature has given the butterflies. It is also the reason that, in our gardens, if we plant milkweeds, we can enjoy Monarch caterpillars from their first instar to adulthood.

Here are a few thoughts on gardening with milkweeds. Although there are many different native milkweed plants, many require specific soil conditions and are not readily available for purchase. The most common milkweed used in butterfly gardening today is the form from Mexico, Asclepias curassavica. It grows year round and is suitable for both the caterpillars to eat and the butterflies for nectaring.

Right: a native milkweed, Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa)

If you would like to try growing natives and can find them, a few are:

  • Asclepias verticillata, Horsetail milkweed. It is an erect, slender perennial that grows in dry, rocky soil with beautiful white flowers. The seeds look similar to the Mexican form.

  • A. lanceolata – Fewflower milkweed. The flowers are red to tangerine and grow in damp soil.

  • A. tuberosa – Butterfly weed. This is a pineland form of milkweed that requires acidic, well drained soil.

  • A longifoliaFlorida milkweed - Found in wet flatwoods.
Let us hear from you fellow gardeners. Tell us which native milkweed plants you have had luck with.