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Natural Awakenings Magazine Daytona | Volusia | Flagler

Florida & Fauna: Welcoming Butterflies in Any Space

Apr 30, 2021 09:31AM ● By Katie Tripp
It’s butterfly season and I’ve had several client requests for butterfly gardens in relatively small areas. Anyone with room for a potted plant in an outdoor space can host butterflies. A true butterfly garden consists of larval host plants for as many of our approximately three dozen local butterfly species as possible. Host plants provide not only nectar for adult butterflies, but are the specific species on which female butterflies need to lay their eggs. When those eggs hatch, the caterpillars eat the leaves of their host plants until they are ready to form a chrysalis and undergo the miraculous transformation into butterflies.

To host iconic monarch butterflies, as well as queen and soldier butterflies, native milkweed is essential. There are only a few native Florida milkweeds that are commercially available because many milkweeds form a long tap root deep into the ground that makes them nearly impossible to cultivate for the nursery trade. Asclepias tuberosa, known commonly as orange milkweed or butterfly weed, is good for sunny, drier areas. It is also a nectar source for hummingbirds. Rose or swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is best for areas with part shade and moist soils. Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) requires mostly sunny conditions and soil moisture that ranges from somewhat moist to somewhat dry. White swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis) requires the greatest soil moisture and is perfect at the edge of a pond. Be sure to choose the best native Florida milkweed for your yard’s conditions. Native milkweed disappears from the landscape in autumn, coinciding with butterfly migration. This is a crucial part of the butterflies’ natural history and is one of several reasons to only purchase and plant milkweed native to Florida. During the growing season, you’ll likely find seed pods on milkweed plants. As these pods dry, feathery seeds will be released into the wind to settle and grow next year’s milkweed.

Three common native groundcovers are also butterfly hosts: frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa), and twinflower (Dyschoriste humistrata and oblongifolia). Frogfruit hosts common buckeye, Phaon crescent, and white peacock butterflies. Sunshine mimosa hosts little sulphur and twinflower hosts common buckeye. Corkystem (Passiflora suberosa) and maypop (Passiflora incarnata) passion vines host Gulf fritillary butterflies in northeast Florida. The maypop also hosts the zebra longwing, our state butterfly, and the red-banded hairstreak. Wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis) is a reseeding annual that hosts common buckeye and white peacock butterflies.

With a little more space, add shrubs including false indigo (Amorpha fruticosa), partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), and privet senna (Senna ligustrina). False indigo and privet senna persist in the landscape year-round, while partridge pea typically disappears and reseeds itself the following year. False indigo hosts southern dogface, gray hairstreak, and silver-spotted skipper. Partridge pea is an important host, supporting cloudless sulphur, gray hairstreak, orange sulphur, sleepy orange, little yellow, and ceraunus blue. Cloudless sulphur, sleepy orange, and orange-barred sulphur butterflies are supported by privet senna. Trees including Hercules club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) and wild lime (Zanthoxylum fagara) are larval hosts for giant swallowtail butterflies.

Remember to include as many native host plants as possible so butterflies can live and reproduce in your landscape. Purchase plants from nurseries that specialize in native plants and organic growing practices. Butterflies are insects and are harmed by commercially available herbicides and pesticides. There are dozens of butterfly species that reside in northeast Florida and as many native plants that they rely upon for all of the cycles of their lives. Welcome some of these plants into your yard and you’ll soon be welcoming butterflies and caterpillars.

Katie Tripp, Ph.D., is the owner of Natural Beauty Native Florida Landscapes, LLC. She created her business to educate Floridians about the importance of utilizing native plants and to help residents create wildlife habitat. Tripp is the current President of the Pawpaw chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society and a member of the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Connect with her at 727-504-4740 or [email protected].