Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Nursery is Open

Is there anything more beautiful in nature than a butterfly? These fluttering slivers of stained glass are easy to attract to your garden all summer long.
The Gulf fritillary is a frequent visitor to my garden
Passionvine is a fritillary favorite
Butterflies need host plants (where they lay their eggs), nectar plants and shelter. Provide these and they will come!
Monarch laying eggs on milkweed

I am a butterfly novice, but there are so many wonderful references available from people who are true experts in the subject. For those who want to delve deeper I recommend these for starters:
Butterfly Gardening in Florida
(University of Florida IFAS publication: an excellent overview!)
Florida Butterfly Gardening
Native Habitats for Monarch Butterflies in South Florida
(A must-read for all who love monarchs because of the concerns it raises about scarlet milkweed, the milkweed species most commonly sold and which most of us rely on to attract monarchs. Without a readily-available alternative, I am going to keep my scarlet milkweed, but I'll be on the lookout for other varieties too.)
A wonderful Blog about the Butterfly Garden at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa.

In my garden I am learning as I go (aren't we all?). Last year we so enjoyed all the monarchs that came to our milkweed that I decided to see what else we could entice. This Spring I planted parsley for black swallowtails and cassia for sulfurs. Our first black swallowtail cat is now dining on the parsley, but the cassias have so far been ignored by the sulfur,.

Our first black swallowtail baby
My passionvine, which had just been getting a growth headwind after dying back to the ground over the summer, has already been stripped bare by the first batch of Gulf fritillary caterpillars. No worries -- it will come right back. Plus, I transplanted some a month ago to another section of fence and the fritillary scouts haven't yet found that one.

I'm also making more of an effort to learn about and provide a variety of nectar plants for butterflies of many species. I have really boosted the number of native wildflowers in my garden, thanks partly to gifts from friends, and now have mistflower, salvia, ironweed, elephant's foot, purple coneflower, horsemint, scorpion tail, blanket flower, narrow-leaved sunflowers, yellowtop, greeneyes and ironweed. Listing all of them has made me realize how much I seem to be trending toward native plants in my butterfly gardens.

Many of our native trees also are excellent nectar sources, including the Chickasaw plum and Walter's viburnum. I don't really see butterflies on mine, but the bees are crazy for the small white Viburnum blossom each Spring -- and the even smaller, but equally irresistible East Palatka holly blooms.

While on vacation recently in coastal North Carolina, I saw a lovely little butterfly garden in a boutique shopping village, with a sign identifying it as a "Certified Monarch Waystation." When I got home and looked this up, I discovered it is a program of Monarch Watch, sponsored by the University of Kansas. The program encourages homeowners, schools and businesses to create an oasis for monarchs during their long migration to Mexico.  You fill out an application stating which of the monarch essentials you have provided and, if you qualify, you receive a certificate designating your habitat as a "Monarch Waystation." The certification costs $16 and there is an additional fee if you want the very handsome aluminum sign to place in your garden. My cynical husband views this program as just another way to part silly old me from my hard-earned money, but I think it is a great way to draw attention to the beautiful monarchs and show that you are giving nature a hand.
Our newest monarch chrysalis, draped in raindrops

 What are your favorite butterfly plants? And, how many of you are seeing zebra longwings (our state butterfly) in your yards? I have not seen any for more than a year in mine. Am wondering if the severe winter of 2010 had anything to do with that.


  1. We recently had visits from some salt marsh cats. I'm still awaiting the swallowtails on the parsley. Thanks for the information about the butterfly watch program. I believe we will apply for that too!

  2. Glad to hear that, Daisy! I am sending my application in today.

    Is your caterpillar from the salt marsh skipper or the salt marsh moth? I learned there are both when I Googled, and it appears as though both occur in our area.

  3. How exciting to have your very own Monarch nursery. Thanks for the great links full of info. I, too, have the scarlet milkweed and only recently read that I should have the native. Well, I haven't found any native milkweed to buy. I will add it when I do find it. I haven't seen many zebra longwings either. Used to have lots of them but this year only a handful. I think you're right about the cold weather. Black swallowtails (I planted dill, rue and parsley) and sulphurs (my cassia has a hard time keeping its leaves) abound along with the monarchs.

  4. The zebra longwings have definitely had a population crash over the past couple of years. The gulf fritillary numbers are down this year too. Only the swallowtails seem to be thriving through our climate extremes.

  5. Jim, I agree with you about the longwings. I used to see them in my garden often; now never. I am getting a good number of fritillaries but nowhere near the number of monarchs we had last year. But I am happy to report we had a sulphur laying eggs on our cassia last week!

  6. Where are you in the world? In England, the cabbage white is still the most popular in spring and summer. We've also seen lots of red admirals last year. I really enjoy your blog.

  7. Hi Simon:

    I am in sunny Florida, in the USA. Not so sunny today, however. We have a very cold night ahead with temps of 29 degrees Fahrenheit predicted!

    The red admiral butterfly is very common in Florida, although not in my yard. We also have cabbage whites. I am still seeing sulphur butteflies in my yard, and yesterday found a Gulf fritillary caterpillar on, of all things, my potted desert rose plant. Have no idea how it ended up there instead of my still-blooming passionvine, which is one of its preferred larval plants. The passionvine will probably be totally whacked by tonight's expected freeze, but it will come back again in the Spring.

    So glad to have a reader "across the pond." Please stay in touch and let me know how your English garden is faring this winter.