Copyright of Sharon’s Florida Copyright © 1998 - 2017 Sharon LaPlante All Rights Reserved

Butterfly Gardening in Central Florida

Attracting butterflies to your backyard is not only rewarding, it is also easier than you may think.  This is because the plants that are an integral part of a butterfly's life cycle are all around us in nature as well as in our landscape.  Taking advantage of this natural occurrence saves the butterfly gardener time, money, and labor.  Native wildflowers such as Spanish needle and lyre leaf sage are invaluable nectar sources for feeding adult butterflies.  Other wildflowers ... mistakenly considered useless weeds by many; everlasting and toadflax, are regular volunteers in tended flowerbeds, and yards, and will provide larval food without any work on the part of the gardener.  By simply making room for the plants they require, the butterfly gardener is rewarded with an abundance of these beautiful creatures to study, photograph, or just enjoy. Butterflies require two entirely different types of plants in order to complete their life cycle.  An adult butterfly is equipped with a proboscis, or tubular tongue, that it uses for drawing nectar, whereas, immature butterflies, known as larvae or caterpillars, have chewing mouth parts and feed on plant parts.  The required food for both life stages should be planted or cultivated in order to develop a successful and abundant butterfly garden.  What this means essentially is - provide flowers for the adults and leaves for the caterpillars.  Additional requirements include water and shelter, however, these needs are usually met without additional effort once the butterfly garden is established. Flower nectar is the preferred food choice of most adult butterflies, however some species also take advantage of tree sap, fermenting fruit, and even carrion.  When planting nectar plants, keep in mind that adult butterflies need sunlight in order to warm their wings for flight.  Therefore, place the majority of nectar plants in a sunny location to assist them as they prepare for takeoff.  Black butterflies, such as the zebra longwing, actually seem to prefer feeding, or nectaring, in shady areas much more frequently than their lighter counterparts.  This is because their dark color absorbs heat more readily thus enabling them to be active sooner in the day as well as on cooler days.  Knowing this, the butterfly gardener should locate some nectar plants in the shade as well as in sunny areas to satisfy all the nectar-seeking visitors.  Florida butterflies are active most of the year so it is also important to utilize a variety of plant species.  This keeps your garden producing blooms throughout the seasons, ensuring a continuous supply of nectar - even in winter. The female butterfly searches out the proper host plant on which to lay her eggs by tasting each plant with sensors on her feet.  Once the correct host plant is located, she will typically lay her eggs on its tips where the tender new growth is found.  Each species of butterfly uses a particular plant or family of plants to nourish its young and will only lay eggs on those plants.  Growing an abundance and variety of larval food plants will attract and support the largest variety of butterflies.  Planting larval foods in several locations throughout your landscape will also ensure that a particular plant, or plants, will not be defoliated as quickly and will 'bounce back' faster with new growth.  Caterpillars feed continuously and voraciously for a few weeks until they have completed several molts, or instars, and are mature enough to pupate.  Most will move away from the host plant to nearby foliage or structures on which to complete this last stage of their larval life.  Some butterflies, however, may stay and pupate on the host plant, while others descend into the leaf litter to accomplish this feat.  Once pupated, the organism has developed a very hard outer covering, called a chrysalis, wherein metamorphosis takes place, and in approximately two weeks an adult butterfly will emerge to trigger a repeat of an amazing life cycle. A butterfly's water requirements are usually met in the form of raindrops, water droplets, and moist soils and mulches.  Routine watering in the butterfly garden is generally more than adequate to fulfill their moisture needs.  Watering the flower beds on hot days will usually result in several butterflies landing to drink from the moist soil or mulch.  A butterfly drinks by uncoiling its proboscis and laying it in the crevices of the mulch, or along the edge a water droplet, drawing water through the tube shaped tongue.  Butterflies can often be seen drinking, or puddling, from mud puddles and areas of concentrated livestock urine in order to obtain required salts and minerals as well as water. Shelter requirements are generally met once the butterfly garden is established.  Adult butterflies seek mature foliage for protection from inclement weather, predators, or merely to rest.  Butterfly houses are very attractive in the garden, but unfortunately, at least for the author, do not seem to entice butterflies into the confined space that they provide.  Butterflies prefer shrubs or trees with large leaves which give them adequate cover and an easy escape route if threatened with predation.  Some species roost communally which can make a seemingly lifeless shrub silently explode with flitting butterflies when disturbed. Take advantage of the wonderful native plants that Florida has to offer and you automatically provide for many of our beautiful native butterflies.  My humble garden becomes absolutely crowded at times with these fascinating animals.  With minimal planning and care, your efforts will be handsomely rewarded.

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If you   plan t it th e y  will  com e  
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s o p lan t e n ou gh  f o r all of them !
W IL DFL OW ERS
Ascl e pias  inca r nat a
swamp milkwe ed
sun
avg
-
m o ist
pink
sp, su &   f all
3 ft
Ascl e pias  tubero sa
but t er f ly milkweed
sun
avg
-
dry
o range
-
red
sp, su &   f all
3 ft
Bal duina angus tif o l ia
yello w bu t to ns
sun
avg
-
dry
yello w
sp, su &   f all
3 ft
Bide ns  al ba
S panish n eedles
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
whit e
all year
3 ft
Car phephor us c or y mbosum
Flo rida pain t brush
sun
avg
-
dry
pink
su &  fall
3 ft
Cnido sc o l us st imul o sus
t read
-
sof t ly
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
-
dry
whit e
all year
3 ft
E l e phant o pus e l ata
elephant ' s f oo t
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
-
dry
lavender
su &  fall
3 ft
Gail l ar dia pul che l l a
blanket   f lo wer
sun
avg
-
dry
red
-
yello w
all year
2 ft
Gar ber ia h e t er o phyl l a
garberia 
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
-
dry
lavender
su &  fall
6 ft
Gl andul ar ia ta mpe ns is
Tampa v ervain
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
-
m o ist
lavender
sp, su &   f all
2 ft
Guar a angus tif o l ia
so u t hern  guara
sun
avg
-
dry
pink
-
whit e
all year
5 ft
Ipo m o psis  r ub r a
st anding  cypres s
sun
avg
-
dry
red
su &  fall
3 ft
Lachnanthe s  caro l inia na
redro o t
sun
-
pt  sh
mo is t
-
wet
o ff  w hit e
sp, su &   f all
3 ft
Liatris g r acil is
gracef ul  blazing st ar
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
-
dry
pink
su, f all
3 ft
Lo b
e l ia ca r dinal is
cardinal f l o wer
sun
-
pt   sh
mo is t
-
wet
red
su &  fall
6 ft
Pil o bl e phis r ig ida
f alse pe nnyr o yal
sun
avg
-
dry
lavender
wt r &  sp
2 ft
Rue l l ia caro l iniensis
wild pet unia
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
blue
sp, su &   f all
2 ft
S al via c o ccine a
red salvia
sun
-
pt  sh
av
g
red
all year
3 ft
S al via l y r at a
lyre leaf sage
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
blue
spring
2 ft
S tachyta r pheta jam aice n sis
po rt erweed
sun
avg
blue
all year
3 ft
S tok esia  laevis
S t o ke 's a st er
sun
avg
-
m o ist
purple
-
blue
sp, su &   f all
2 ft
Ver be s ina vi r gin ica
f ro s t weed
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
whit e
su, f all
6 ft
Ver n o nia  angus tif o l ia
iro nweed
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
purple
su, f all
4 ft
SHRU B S
Ce phal anthus o ccide n tal is
but to nbush
sun
-
pt  sh
mo is t
o ff  w hit e
sp, su &   f all
10 ft
Co r di a gl o b o sa
blo o dberry
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
whit e
sp, su &   f all
5 ft
E ryth r ina  her bace a
co ral bea n
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
-
dry
red
spring
4 ft
Hame l ia pa tens
f irebush
sun
-pt sh
avg
-
m o ist
red
all year
15 ft
It e a vi r ginica
Virginia  willo w
part  shade
avg
-
m o ist
whit e
spring
3 ft
Rho do de nd r on can e scens
wild azalea
pt  shade
mo is t
pink
spring
15 ft
Rho do de nd r on viscosum
swamp azalea
pt  shade
mo is t
whit e
summer
15 ft
Rubus cune ifo l ius  
sand blackberry
sun
avg
-
dry
whit e
wt r &  sp
6 ft
Rubus tr i vial is
so u t hern  dewberry
sun
avg
-
dry
whit e
wt r &  sp
3 ft
Vaccinium
cor y mbo sum
highbush  blueberry
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
-
m o ist
whit e
spring
10 ft
TREES
Ae scul us pa via
buckeye
pt
-
shade
avg
-
m o ist
red
spring
36 ft
Ar al ia  spin o sa
devil's w alking s t ick
pt
-
shade
avg
o ff  w hit e
summer
30 ft
Pr unus am e r ica na
Americ an plum
pt
-
shade
avg
whit e
spring
30 ft
Pr unus
angust ifo l ia
chickasaw  plum  
pt
-
shade
avg
whit e
spring
24 ft
Pr unus u mbe l l ata
f lat w o o ds  plum
pt
-
shade
avg
whit e  
spring
24 ft
Vaccinium  ar b or e um
sparkleberry
pt
-
shade
avg
whit e  
spring
30 ft
VINES
Bign o nia  capre o l a ta
cro ss  vi ne
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
red
sprin
g
Campsis r adicans
t rumpet vine
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
red
-
o range
sp, su, f all
Ipo m oe a c o r da totril o ba
mo rnin g glo r y
sun
avg
lavender
sp, su, f all
Ipo m oe a h e der if o l ia
scarlet mo r ning  glory
sun
-
pt  sh
avg
red
sp, su, f all
Ipo m oe a p e s
-
capr ae
railro ad vi ne
sun
avg
-
dry
lavender
sp, su, f all
Lo nicer a  sempervire ns
co ral h o ne ysu ckle
pt  shade
avg
red
sp
-
su
Butterfly Plant Family Native Plants in that Family  SWALLOWTAILS Black Swallowtail Apiaceae   or Celery family wild chervil ( Chaerophyllum tainturieri )   wild carrot ( Daucus pusillis )                  bishop's weed ( Ptilimnium capillaceum) Giant Swallowtail Rutaceae   or Citrus family hoptree ( Ptelea trifoliata )   prickly ash ( Zanthoxylum americanum )   Hercules's club ( Zanthoxylum     clava - herculis ) Palamedes Swallowtail Lauraceae   or Laurel family spicebush ( Lindera benzoin )   pond spice ( Litsea aestivalis )   red bay ( Persea borbonia )   swamp bay ( Persea palustris ) Pipevine Swallowtail Aristolochiaceae     or   Birthwort family Virginia snakeroot ( Aristolochia serpentaria )   wooly pipevine ( Aristolochia tomentosa ) Polydamas Swallowtail Aristolochiaceae     or   Birthwort family Virginia snakeroot ( Aristolochia serpentaria )   wooly pipevine ( Aristolochia tomentosa ) Spicebush Swallowtail Lauraceae   or Laurel family spicebush ( Lindera benzoin )   pond spice ( Litsea aestivalis )   red bay ( Persea borbonia )   swamp bay ( Persea palustris ) Tiger Swallowtail Magnoliaceae   or Magnolia family tulip tree ( Liriodendron tulipifera )   sweet bay ( Magnolia virginiana ) Zebra Swallowtail Annonaceae   or Custard  apple family slim - leaf pawpaw ( Asimina angustifolia )   flag pawpaw ( Asimina obovata )   pawpaw ( Asimina reticulata ) WHITES Checkered White Brassicaeae   or Mustard family peppergrass ( Lepidium virginicum ) European Cabbage White Brassicaeae   or Mustard family peppergrass ( Lepidium virginicum ) Great Southern White Brassicaeae   or Mustard family American sea rocket ( Cakile edentula )   coastal sea rocket ( Cakile lanceolata )   peppergrass ( Lepidium virginicum ) SULPHURS   (a partial listing of species in our area) Barred Sulphur Fabaceae   or Pea family shy leaf ( Aeschynomene americana )   sticky vetch ( Aeschynomene viscidula )   pencil flower     ( Stylosanthus biflora ) Cloudless Sulphur Fabaceae   or Pea family shy leaf ( Aeschynomene americana )   sticky vetch ( Aeschynomene viscidula )   pencil flower     ( Stylosanthus biflora ) Dainty Sulphur Asteraceae   or Aster family Spanish needles ( Bidens alba ) BLUES Cassius Blue Fabaceae   or Pea family Elliott's milk pea ( Galactia elliottii )   Eastern milk pea ( Galactia regularis ) Ceraunus Blue Fabaceae   or Pea family alicia ( Chapmannia floridana )   Elliott's milk pea ( Galactia elliottii )   Eastern milk pea ( Galactia regularis )      tropical puff ( Neptunia pubescens ) Eastern Pygmy blue Chenopodiaceae   or Glasswort family annual glasswort ( Salicornia bigelo vii )   perennial glasswort ( Salicornia perennis ) HAIRSTREAKS   (a partial listing of species in our area) Gray Hairstreak Fabaceae   or Pea family partridge pea ( Chamaecrista fasciculata )   sensitive pea ( Chamaecrista nictitans )   wild sensitive plant ( Senna ligustrina )   wild sensitive plant ( Senna marilandica ) Great Purple Hairstreak Viscaceae   or Mistletoe family mistletoe ( Phoradendron leucarpum ) Red - banded Hairstreak Fagaceae   or Beech   & Oak   family oaks ( Quercus   spp.) White M Hairstreak Fagaceae   or Beech  & Oak  family oaks ( Quercus   spp.) BRUSHFOOTED BUTTERFLIES American Painted Lady Asteraceae   or Aster family everlasting   ( Gamochaeta   pensylvanica)     narrowleaf   everlasting   ( Gamochaeta   falcatum)     (synonym   Gnaphalium ) Common Buckeye Scrophulariaceae   or   snapdragon   family pineland false foxglove (Agalinis divaricata) false fo xglove (Agalinis fasciculata) Seminole false foxglove (Agalinis filifolia) flax - leaf false foxglove (Agalinis linifolia) seaside false foxglove (Agalinis maritima) tenlobe false foxglove (Agalinis obtusifolia) purple false foxglove (Agalinis purpurea) thre adleaf false foxglove (Agalinis setacea) slender false foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia) American bluehearts (Buchnera americana) Canada   toadflax (Linaria canadensis) Texas toadflax (Linaria texana)

Native Larval Food

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black swallowtail caterpillar eating bronze fennel black swallowtail caterpillar eating bronze fennel black swallowtail caterpillar eating bronze fennel black swallowtail chrysalis black swallowtail chrysalis black swallowtail chrysalis a giant swallowtail butterfly drinking from a puddle of water a giant swallowtail butterfly drinking from a puddle of water a giant swallowtail butterfly drinking from a puddle of water a zebra longwing butterfly nectaring on a Mexican sunflower a zebra longwing butterfly nectaring on a Mexican sunflower a zebra longwing butterfly nectaring on a Mexican sunflower a black swallowtail butterfly that just emerged from its chrysalis a black swallowtail butterfly that just emerged from its chrysalis a black swallowtail butterfly that just emerged from its chrysalis