Article by UF/IFAS Extension Broward County Urban Horticulture Agent Lorna Bravo
Our urban yards are the first line of defense to protect local wildlife.
If you want to have bees, butterflies, birds, and more visit your garden, you must support their food life cycle. As urban areas rapidly increase worldwide, our urban yards are the first defense line preserving Florida’s fragile environment. Let’s invite native plants into our yards. If you plant them, the butterflies will come! How do we do this? Invite plants with nectar sources in your yard—select plants with seeds, fruit, flowers, or berries. Contact our Broward Extension office for a list of plants you can invite in your yard to support wildlife and consider recognizing your yard as a Florida-Friendly Landscape. This month we are featuring all about the cloudless Sulphur butterfly.
The Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly
The cloudless sulphur, Phoebis sennae (Linnaeus), is one of Florida’s most common and attractive butterflies. It is particularly prominent during its fall southward migration. Did you know that its genus name is derived from Phoebe, the sister of Apollo? A god of Greek and Roman mythology (Opler and Krizek 1984)?
The Cloudless Sulphur Caterpillar
Are you aware that the caterpillars can look different depending on what they eat?
The larvae of these butterflies are most of the time green with yellow lateral lines, blue patches, and bands of tiny blue spots. These bear short hairs covering all or a part of their bodies. Are you aware that the caterpillars can look different depending on what they eat? Larvae that feed predominantly on flowers instead of leaves are yellow with black bands.
How do they protect themselves against predators?
The caterpillar usually builds a “tent” by using a strand of silk to fold up a leaf and protect it from predators and the elements.
What is the secret to their visit?
There are a number of native host plants for cloudless sulphur caterpillars. Plant the alluring native Patridge pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata, privet wild sensitive pea, Chamaecrista lineata var. keyensis or coffeeweed (sicklepod), Senna obtusifolia in your garden, and the Cloudless Sulphur butterfly appears!
Additional Native Host Plants
- Florida Keys sensitive pea, Chamaecrista deeringiana
- Maryland wild sensitive plant, Senna marilandica
- narrowpod sensitive pea, Chamaecrista lineata var. keyensis
- sensitive pea, Chamaecrista nictitans
- Chapman’s wild sensitive plant, Senna mexicana var. chapmanii
Did you know that Cloudless sulphur butterflies have relatively long tongues and can reach the nectar in tubular flowers that other butterflies cannot? Where you aware that the males sometimes drink from mud?
What flowers do they prefer?
They prefer red flowers and frequently get nectar from red morning-glory (Ipomoea coccinea), scarlet creeper (Ipomoea hederifolia), cypressvine (Ipomoea quamoclit), and scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea).
Introduced Host Species
There are several non-native host plants for cloudless sulphur caterpillars. UF/ IFAS Assessment recommends these plants be used with caution in South Florida and be managed to prevent escape.
- candlestick plant, Senna alata (the IFAS Assessment says this plant should be used with caution in North, Central, and South Florida; this means that plants should be managed to prevent escape) Senna alata – UF/IFAS Assessment – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ufl.edu)
- septicweed, Senna occidentalis (the IFAS Assessment says this plant should be used with caution in North, Central, and South Florida; this means that plants should be managed to prevent escape) Senna occidentalis – UF/IFAS Assessment – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ufl.edu)
- Christmas senna (Christmas cassia or valamuerto), Senna pendula var. glabrata (the IFAS Assessment says this plant is invasive and should not be planted in South Florida; be aware that this plant is also often sold under the incorrect name Senna bicapsularis) Senna pendula var glabrata – UF/IFAS Assessment – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ufl.edu)
What is the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas?
The UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas uses literature-based assessment tools to evaluate the invasion risk of non-native species in the state, new species proposed for introduction, and novel agricultural and horticultural selections, hybrids, and cultivars.UF/IFAS Assessment – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ufl.edu)
The Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly Full Life Cycle
Watch this fascinating video of the complete life cycle of the cloudless sulphur butterfly created by UF/IFAS Extension Broward County Master Gardener Volunteer Amy Rielly. Understand what the eggs look like, the caterpillars, and the adult butterfly stage to be able to identify them in your landscape. The video has extra footage of its full life cycle and signature colors as it grows.
Do you want to invite this beauty into your yard? Provide for Wildlife
Learn about our Florida-Friendly Landscaping program and its nine principles. Contact our Broward Extension office for a list of plants you can invite in your yard to support wildlife and consider recognizing your yard as a Florida-Friendly Landscape.
Interested to have your yard recognized as a Florida-Friendly Landscape?
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL) program is an educational outreach program informing homeowners and professionals how they can be more environmentally friendly with their landscape care practices. Since 1994, FFL has served Florida as a partnership between the University of Florida, the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension (UF/IFAS Extension), and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Program’s mission is to educate Floridians about science-based, environmentally friendly landscaping practices and encourage them to conserve and protect our water resources by applying its nine principles. Recognizing the home landscape as part of a more extensive natural system will help us make sound decisions in creating a Florida-Friendly yard and help protect Florida’s natural environment for future generations. Interested to have your landscape recognized under the nine FFL principles? You can watch our local Broward County FFL presentation here: Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ in Urban Environments – YouTube
Contact UF/IFAS Extension Broward County Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program.
You can read more about The Cloudless Sulphur butterfly, the host plants, and the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas here:
- Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly – Gardening Solutions – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ufl.edu)
- EENY-524/IN929: Cloudless Sulphur Phoebis sennae (Linnaeus) (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Pieridae: Coliadinae) (ufl.edu)
- UF/IFAS Assessment – University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (ufl.edu)
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