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Duranta shrub flowers

View of Pollinators

a honeybee nectaring from duranta blossom

A honeybee gathering nectar from a white Duranta ‘Alba’ blossom, photo by Yvonne Florian

Outside my office window is a large bush dappled in diminutive dangling white flowers.  And butterflies!  This Duranta ‘Alba’, or “Golden-Dew-Drop”, is so distracting that I find myself frequently glancing at the antics of its beautiful insect visitors.  In five minutes I have seen twelve Zebra long-wings (our state butterfly), 4 Gulf fritillaries, two Monarchs, a long-tailed Skipper, and a Spicebush butterfly.  I also spotted five bumblebees, a green orchid bee, and 6 honeybees.  And there were numerous solitary bees I could not identify at this distance.  These are all excellent pollinators.  And this one shaded Duranta bush seems to be the favored insect café.

Dangling Duranta erecta blossoms

Dangling blossoms of Duranta erecta ‘Sweet Memory’, photo by Yvonne Florian

Duranta varieties

I have four different varieties of Duranta.  There is the white flowered variety, “Alba” which seems to be the only Duranta with fragrant blooms.  Then there is the average one I trim as a driveway hedge which has the same foliage but with purple flowers.  The “Sweet Memory” variety has purple blooms with white edges.  And “Cuban Gold” has dark purple blooms with leaves which are almost golden-lime-green.  There is one which I do not have which has variegated leaves, Duranta erecta variegata.  But “Alba” variety seems to be the favorite nectar spot for pollinators in my yard.  And who could blame them.  The shady spot is ten degrees cooler than its counterpart in full hot Florida summer sunshine.

the Passionflower vine host
2 butterfly caterpillars on a Passionflower vine

a Zebra longwing and Gulf fritillary caterpillars on passionflower vine, photo by Yvonne Florian

Of course, the shade helps.  But it is also near a very sunny Natal plum hedge with a passionflower vine growing throughout.  Passionflower vine is the host plant for the eggs of 3 Florida Heliconiinae family butterflies:

  • The Zebra longwing, Heliconius charitonia, our state butterfly,
  • the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae (both adults declined a photograph),
  • and the Julia, Dryas iulia, which is seldom seen here.

A few yards away is a Fire bush, Hamelia patens.  This is a native plant which can be grown in sun or shade.  It is loved by insect pollinators, berry-eating birds, and hummingbirds.

fire bush, Hamelia patens

Firebush, photo by David Marshall, Leon County Agent

Even once berries begin to form, Fire bush keeps on blooming.  The leaves turn an amazing copper and burgundy in full sun.  Combine that with the one-inch long bright orange tubular blooms borne in clusters and you can imagine how it got the common name “Fire bush”. It is a favorite among the Zebra long-wings.  Which is why it is the only orange flowered plant I grow.  Like a little controlled heat at the edge of a cool shade garden, Fire bush draws the eye for a focal point in an otherwise low key area.

This insect wonderland is a fun place for my toddler grandsons.  They will chase butterflies while giggling at their aerial antics and directional changes.  But then the boys come in close and get quiet when observing the small caterpillars on the passionflower vine.  We enjoy watching them munch the leaves like corn-on-the-cob.

5 Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on a fennel branch

5 Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillars on a Florence fennel branch, photo by Yvonne Florian

Backyard Wonderland

In my backyard is one sunny spot for my herb garden.  There we enjoy watching the Eastern black swallowtail butterflies lay eggs on my dill, fennel, and parsley.  They might also use the carrots as hosts but a wild rabbit ate those.  These butterflies are so intent on their egg-laying that you can get very close.  Their caterpillars start out black with a mint-green belt.  But after shedding skin, they look almost identical to monarch caterpillars.  In a week or so we will go on a chrysalis hunt to see if we can find where they’ve hidden themselves.

predatory stink bug feeding on an oleander moth caterpillar

Predacious stink bug, feeding on an oleander moth caterpillar pest, UF file photo

Our family backyard is an amazing place where we are always surprised by new discoveries.  We never spray insecticides so our insect friends feel right at home.  This allows for the safety of the children and all our pollinator friends, as well as some enemies. Catching insect enemies can be a fun game too.  We try to identify the insect pest before we freeze them.

This predatory stinkbug preys on insect pests like the oleander moth caterpillar, and others.  This caterpillar not only defoliates ornamental oleander but also causes severe medical issues for pets which might touch or eat it.

If you’d like to learn how you can have a butterfly garden or yard, the University of Florida’s Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS) has butterfly publications entitled “Butterfly Gardening in Florida” and “Community ButterflyScaping: How to move beyond … to create a large-scale butterfly habitat“.

Another great EDIS publication on pollinator gardening is “Attracting Native Bees to Your Florida Landscape“.