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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.
a black swallowtail butterfly newly emerged from its chrysalis a black swallowtail caterpillar eating bronze fennel leaves a giant swallowtail drinking from a puddle a black swallowtail chrysalis attached to a beauty berry shrub a zebra longwing on a Mexican sunflower

Nectar Sources

If you plant it they will come 
-
so plant enough for all of them!
WILDFLOWERS
Asclepias incarnata
swamp milkweed
sun
avg
-
moist
pink
sp, su & fall
3 ft
Asclepias tuberosa
butterfly milkweed
sun
avg
-
dry
orange
-
red
sp, su & fall
3 ft
Balduina angustifolia
yellow buttons
sun
avg
-
dry
yellow
sp, su & fall
3 ft
Bidens alba
Spanish needles
sun
-
pt sh
avg
white
all year
3 ft
Carphephorus corymbosum
Florida paintbrush
sun
avg
-
dry
pink
su & fall
3 ft
Cnidoscolus stimulosus
tread
-
softly
sun
-
pt sh
avg
-
dry
white
all year
3 ft
Elephantopus elata
elephant's foot
sun
-
pt sh
avg
-
dry
lavender
su & fall
3 ft
Gaillardia pulchella
blanket flower
sun
avg
-
dry
red
-
yellow
all year
2 ft
Garberia heterophylla
garberia 
sun
-
pt sh
avg
-
dry
lavender
su & fall
6 ft
Glandularia tampensis
Tampa vervain
sun
-
pt sh
avg
-
moist
lavender
sp, su & fall
2 ft
Guara angustifolia
southern guara
sun
avg
-
dry
pink
-
white
all year
5 ft
Ipomopsis rubra
standing cypress
sun
avg
-
dry
red
su & fall
3 ft
Lachnanthes caroliniana
redroot
sun
-
pt sh
moist
-
wet
off white
sp, su & fall
3 ft
Liatris gracilis
graceful blazing star
sun
-
pt sh
avg
-
dry
pink
su, fall
3 ft
Lob
elia cardinalis
cardinal flower
sun
-
pt sh
moist
-
wet
red
su & fall
6 ft
Piloblephis rigida
false pennyroyal
sun
avg
-
dry
lavender
wtr & sp
2 ft
Ruellia caroliniensis
wild petunia
sun
-
pt sh
avg
blue
sp, su & fall
2 ft
Salvia coccinea
red salvia
sun
-
pt sh
av
g
red
all year
3 ft
Salvia lyrata
lyre leaf sage
sun
-
pt sh
avg
blue
spring
2 ft
Stachytarpheta jamaicensis
porterweed
sun
avg
blue
all year
3 ft
Stokesia  laevis
Stoke's aster
sun
avg
-
moist
purple
-
blue
sp, su & fall
2 ft
Verbesina virginica
frostweed
sun
-
pt sh
avg
white
su, fall
6 ft
Vernonia angustifolia
ironweed
sun
-
pt sh
avg
purple
su, fall
4 ft
SHRUBS
Cephalanthus occidentalis
buttonbush
sun
-
pt sh
moist
off white
sp, su & fall
10 ft
Cordia globosa
bloodberry
sun
-
pt sh
avg
white
sp, su & fall
5 ft
Erythrina herbacea
coral bean
sun
-
pt sh
avg
-
dry
red
spring
4 ft
Hamelia patens
firebush
sun
-pt sh
avg
-
moist
red
all year
15 ft
Itea virginica
Virginia willow
part shade
avg
-
moist
white
spring
3 ft
Rhododendron canescens
wild azalea
pt shade
moist
pink
spring
15 ft
Rhododendron viscosum
swamp azalea
pt shade
moist
white
summer
15 ft
Rubus cuneifolius 
sand blackberry
sun
avg
-
dry
white
wtr & sp
6 ft
Rubus trivialis
southern dewberry
sun
avg
-
dry
white
wtr & sp
3 ft
Vaccinium
corymbosum
highbush blueberry
sun
-
pt sh
avg
-
moist
white
spring
10 ft
TREES
Aesculus pavia
buckeye
pt
-
shade
avg
-
moist
red
spring
36 ft
Aralia spinosa
devil's walking stick
pt
-
shade
avg
off white
summer
30 ft
Prunus americana
American plum
pt
-
shade
avg
white
spring
30 ft
Prunus
angustifolia
chickasaw plum 
pt
-
shade
avg
white
spring
24 ft
Prunus umbellata
flatwoods plum
pt
-
shade
avg
white 
spring
24 ft
Vaccinium arboreum
sparkleberry
pt
-
shade
avg
white 
spring
30 ft
VINES
Bignonia capreolata
cross vine
sun
-
pt sh
avg
red
sprin
g
Campsis radicans
trumpet vine
sun
-
pt sh
avg
red
-
orange
sp, su, fall
Ipomoea cordatotriloba
morning glory
sun
avg
lavender
sp, su, fall
Ipomoea hederifolia
scarlet morning glory
sun
-
pt sh
avg
red
sp, su, fall
Ipomoea pes
-
caprae
railroad vine
sun
avg
-
dry
lavender
sp, su, fall
Lonicera sempervirens
coral honeysuckle
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 Sources

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