How to Maintain Atala Butterflies in Your Garden Year-Round

The Starting Point

A common mistake first time Atala butterfly gardeners make, me included, is to suppose that what we did to raise other butterflies, e.g. Zebra, Fritillary, or Monarch butterflies will work the same with Atalas. Unfortunately, not so! It is not enough to introduce a coontie plant here or there and a one-size fits all nectar source. Getting Atala butterflies to stay in my garden made me look at the bigger picture, the garden’s ecosystem.

Both the larval and nectar sources are very important, but without the coontie plant, and lots of it, the Atalas are just passing through. This blog is the first in a series of blogs that address key points to maintaining a year-round Atala colony. This blog and the next is dedicated to the coontie plant.  Later blogs will highlight their nectar plants and shelter essentials.

An Atala butterfly colony requires more planning and yard space than our regular resident butterflies. If your neighbors’ have Atala butterflies visiting, then they are in your immediate area, and you may accomplish attracting Atalas a lot quicker. The near demise of its larval host plant has affected their presence and abundance in our gardens.

The Larval Host Plant: Coonties

How many coontie plants do you have or have space for? How big are your coontie plants? A single coontie plant will not do if you want to have an Atala butterfly colony.   Coonties are S L O W growing plants. They can grow very large, but over many, many years, and once you introduce the Atala caterpillars, they will chew the plant back to stubs. The coontie usually cannot readily flush out to its original splendor fast enough to feed the starving caterpillars.

You will notice when you purchase one and three-gallon containers of coontie plants that they are pricey by comparison to other plants in the same size container, that is because coontie plants naturally take a long time to grow. The larger the container the more the price. It is best not to introduce the Atala caterpillars until your coontie plants have established themselves and grown. Provide your coontie plants a head start before introducing the Atala caterpillars which will slow the growing process if not halt it entirely.

Coonties naturally grow near each other in groups, facilitating the butterflies’ fluttering about, inspecting the plants, and laying eggs. The more coontie beds in our garden the more we encourage the Atalas to linger. Our objective is for them to move in and live in your garden. My garden has about eight beds with 50 plus coontie plants altogether. This did not happen overnight; I started with a couple and kept adding over the years.


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Posted: March 21, 2024

Category: Agriculture, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Home Landscapes, Horticulture, NATURAL RESOURCES, Wildlife
Tags: Florida, Home Landscaping, Miam-Dade Extension, Miami-Dade, Natural Resources, Wild Life

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