Bringing Butterflies into your yard

South Florida’s climate offers gardeners the opportunity to attract butterflies every month of the year.  There are about 160 species of butterflies in Florida. You can make them a part of your garden.

First some facts about our flying friends.

Butterflies do not bite or carry disease.  In their adult form they do no harm.

Butterflies are cold blooded; they do not produce metabolic heat like humans, so they must rely on the sun to raise their body temperature so they can move about.  Some bask with their wings open, others with wings shut.

Many butterflies are territorial and fight, chasing others out of their territory.

Butterflies can see ultraviolet light (light invisible to the human eye) which makes the markings on flowers very vivid to them and guides them to the nectar tubes.  Some butterflies have ultraviolet reflectants or markings on their own wings which are visible only to other butterflies.

Butterflies are pollinators.  While they are not as abundant as bees, they do offer a particularly valuable contribution to the continuation of genetic diversity.  Unlike bees which tend to be home based, butterflies move randomly over the landscape.  We know of certain plants such as the Florida scrub, blazing star, and Curtis milkweed that seem to be totally dependent on butterflies for pollination (both species are on the endangered species list).

If you want to bring “flying flowers” into your yard, you need to plant nectar plants, that supply food for the butterflies, and larval plants, which are the food source for the caterpillars.  Selecting the nectar plants is easy because butterflies and birds will take nectar from a wide variety of flowers.  Generally these are plants that have sweet smelling flowers in warm colors such as yellow, red, orange and blue blossoms.  By selecting plants that have an abundance of nectar, you will have a cloud of butterflies beating their wings to your garden path.

Now, you have a fast food restaurant.  However, if you want future generations to be born in your yard, you need to select larval plants for the butterflies to deposit their eggs.  Just as you and I have different ethnic food preferences, different species of butterflies show a preference for different species of flowers.  Certain species of butterfly choose specific plants as the food source for the caterpillars and will lay their eggs only on that particular plant. 

Quick start menu:

If you have just a small space and you want to get started what plants would you choose?
I’d start with pentas, firebush and lantana interspersed with parsley, dill and fennel. Next, I’d place a vine (passion flower or pipevine) on a fence or topiary frame.  You can make a pole frame by tying long bamboo poles together and pushing them in the dirt.  Plant a vine at the base and watch it climb!

For more ideas and information:

Butterfly World at Tradewinds Park South,
3600 West Sample Road, Coconut Creek, Florida

Surf  the Internet
Start at the Association for Tropical Lepidoptera at They have many links to follow to other web sites that feature butterflies

The Florida Federation of Garden Club pages have monthly tips, photos, and many links

Florida’s Fabulous Butterflies by Thomas Emmel
Photography by Brian Kenney  World Publications ISBN: 0-911977-15-5

Florida Butterfly Gardening  by Marc C. Minno and Maria  Minno University Press of Florida  ISBN:0-8130-1665-7

Native Florida Plants by  Robert Haehle & Joan Brookwell
Gulf Publishing Company, Book Division, Houston, Texas ISBN:0-88415-425-4

National Audubon Society Pocket Guide, Familiar Butterflies of North America
Alfred A. Knopf, New York ISBN: 0-679-72981-X

Butterfly Gardening for the South  by Geyata Ajilvsgi
Taylor Publishing Company, Dallas Texas ISBN: 0-87833-738-5

Nectar Plants

Some Nectar Plants you may wish to include in your garden:

Ageratum – For Monarchs, Queens and Blues
Blue Porterweed (Stachytarpheta spp.)– A favorite of many.
Butterfly Bush (Buddelia davidii) – For all butterflies including the larger Swallowtails and Fritillaries
Cosmos  – Monarchs
Citrus – Swallowtails
Dune Sunflower (Helianthus debilis) – A good ground cover and nectar plant.
Firebush (Hamelia patens) – Zebras and Sulphurs adore it!
Geiger (Cordia spp.) – Smaller butterflies and hummingbirds love it.
Golden Dewdrop (Duranta erecti) – A food source for birds too.
Heliotrope – A very fragrant attractor.
Hibiscus – For hummingbirds and butterflies
Lantana – Another all around butterfly favorite
Liatris – Spikes of dark purple attract many species
Mexican Flame (Senecio confusus)- Put it on a wall or trellis
Peregrina also called Jatropha (Jatropha hastata) – A small tree with red blossoms and lots of butterflies
Pentas – Especially the red, magenta and white
Pink Porterweed – Zebras and Sulphurs
Scarlet Milkweed – Monarchs and Queens
Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea)– Butterflies and hummingbirds
Wild Coffee (Psychotria undata) – Zebras
Zinnia – Black Swallowtails

And the bedding plants: aster, bachelor button, daisy, impatiens, marigold, petunia and verbena.

Larval Plants

Larval Plants and the butterflies whose caterpillars feed on them
Dill, Fennel and Parsley Black Swallowtail 
Ficus (Strangler and Short-leaf fig) Ruddy Daggerwing
Mallows Tropical Checkered Skipper, Painted Lady 
Mustard (peppergrass) capers Great Southern White 
Nettles, False Nettle Red Admiral
Passion Vine Zebra Longwing, Gulf- Fritillary and Julia
Pawpaw  Zebra Swallowtail
Pipevine (Aristolochia) Polydamas and Pipevine Swallowtail
Red Mangrove Mangrove Skipper 
Ruellia Malachite, White Peacock 
Scarlet Milkweed Monarch, Queen 
Wild Petunia Buckeye, White Peacock, Malachite
Wild Lime Giant Swallowtail, Shaus Swallowtail 
Wild Tamarind Large Orange Sulphur 
Willow  Viceroy, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail 

Whether you are a home owner or condominium dweller,
"A Garden Diary: A Guide to Gardening in South Florida" contains information that will benefit you.  It contains a wide variety of tropical topics...Plus pages for your gardening notes.

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