Attracting Butterflies To Your Yard
One of the best things about our yard is the many butterflies that swoop around all day. It is so enjoyable watching them flutter around from one plant to the next, taking in sweet nectar and pollinating the flowers. It is also very fascinating to watch their life cycle of eggs, caterpillar, pupa and then the emergence of the butterfly. Each cycle is so different. It’s amazing to see the transformation.
To attract butterflies to your yard you at least need plants that they feed on, called nectar plants. If you want to help them propagate you need host plants, which they lay their eggs on, and when they become caterpillars, they feed on. Often, the caterpillars will defoliate the host, but the plants always bounce back.
The most common butterfly in our yard is the Gulf Fritillary, which is a striking bright orange. It loves the native Passiflora incarnata passion vine or maypop. This vine once established produces incredibly beautiful purple flowers. Our main vine is on a trellis on our shed and is often covered with caterpillars which are also bright orange with black spikes. The Julia Heliconian butterfly also uses passiflora incarnata as its host plant. Passiflora incarnata will spread around your yard but is easy to pull up in the spaces where you don’t want it. The plant can also be used medicinally and is one of my favorites.
We also have a lot of Monarchs that stay year-round in our yard. They love the Butterflyweed, which is spreading everywhere. It is fun to see clusters of 3-4 Monarchs flying gracefully around together. When the striped black, white, and yellow caterpillars hatch, they feed on a milkweed and will easily devour all the foliage. They have a beautiful chrysalis, which is the stage where the caterpillar transforms to a butterfly. It is an emerald green with gold dots around the top. When they hatch from the chrysalis and spread their wings and gather strength to fly off it is a wonderous sight.
There are many other butterflies in our yard including: Cloudless Sulphur, Orange Barred, Zebra Heliconian, Black Swallowtail, and Atala. It’s always exciting to see them and an adventure to capture a photo as they never pose for more than an instance.
There are lists of plants from various organizations and on the web of the best butterfly plants for Florida. I will list a few of our favorites, all of which have beautiful flowers or make great landscape plants.
Porterweed is a favorite nectar plant for butterflies. Porterweed has small flowers on long spikes with dark green foliage and tolerates dry conditions. The flowers are edible and taste like mushrooms. There are two types of porterweed, prostrate and upright. The prostrate is native and is low growing. The upright is not a native and can get up to 5-6 feet or more. The prostrate variety readily spreads around the yard but can be dug up, potted, and distributed to friends and neighbors.
Cassia is the host plant of the Sulphur butterflies: Cloudless and Orange Barred which are a striking yellow. We have the native bahamia cassia which is a small shrub with bright yellow flowers. There are many other cassias such as privet, candle stick, and popcorn. The cassias have the additional benefit of being nitrogen fixers.
Pentas is also a great nectar plants for butterflies and are very showy with their five lobed flowers that bloom nonstop. The smaller varieties are readily found at garden centers and they come in multiple colors. There is also a three-foot-tall pink shrub that is a little harder to find but is worth the effort.
Tampa vervain is a low growing native with beautiful purple flowers that is a nectar source. It is endangered due to development so planting this helps restore the native habitat.
Another nectar source is panama rose which is a spectacular shrub with loads of pink flowers. It blooms almost all year and its heavenly scent is especially fragrant at night. It is low maintenance and likes lots of sun so is another great choice for your landscape.
Coontie is a low growing native with attractive dark green fern like foliage. It does well in shade or sun in dry soils. It’s the host for the Atala butterfly which almost went extinct a century ago due to the harvest of coontie. Luckily, both have made a comeback.
Plumbago is a medium shrub with sky blue flowers that are another nectar source for butterflies. It is a popular landscape plant as it is fast growing and low maintenance.
Having nectar and host plants in your yard is not only a great benefit to the local ecosystem but gives one great pleasure observing these beautiful insects and watching their transformations.
Greg and Linda Nelson are landscape designers who have transformed their Englewood yard using Permaculture techniques. They offer landscape consultations, design services, and free monthly tours through their business: Love Your Yard. Contact them at email@example.com, 207-449-9012 or visit their website at www.weloveyouryard.wixsite.com/swfl.