Butterfly Friends in Your Garden
There are few things more exciting in your home garden than getting visits from colorful butterflies stopping for food. By choosing the right plants, you can not only get butterflies to visit, but also raise butterflies and see them emerge from their chrysalis as new life in your garden.
The Butterfly Life Cycle
When adult butterflies visit your garden, they will feed on nectar from colorful flowering plants. If a female butterfly locates the plant that is preferred food for their caterpillars, they may lay eggs on that plant. When the egg hatches, it hatches as larva – a caterpillar that will eat the leaves of the plant, shedding their skin several times as they grow. When the caterpillar is fully grown, it forms into a pupa or chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar goes through rapid change to emerge as a beautiful adult butterfly.
Plants for your Butterfly Garden
There are two main types of plants you will want in your butterfly garden. Nectar plants are colorful nectar rich flowering plants that attract and keep adult butterflies in your garden. Different species prefer different colors, so try to have a mixture of red, pink, purple, blue, white, ad yellow, blooms. Some good nectar plants in Central Florida include Blanket Flower, Pentas, Blue Porterweed, Cassia, Salvia, and other colorful plants.
You also will want to plant the specific plant – called a larval host plant – which the butterflies you hope to raise will feed on as caterpillars. Caterpillars are fussy eaters. Each species has just a few plants that serve as hosts for their larva. In Central Florida, some good choices include milkweeds for monarchs, passionflower vine for Zebra Longwings (our state butterfly), and Cassia for Sulfur butterflies like the Cloudless Sulphur.
If You Plant It, They Will Come
For best success as a beginning butterfly gardener, start by choosing two or three common local butterflies you hope to raise. Plant both colorful nectar plants, and the larval host plant for the species you’ve chosen. Gardens can be large or small, and you can even have success with container gardens that provide resources for butterflies. In addition to adding natural beauty to your garden, butterflies are pollinators for native and cultivated plants, and an indicator of the health of our environment. Seeing butterflies emerge from their pupa and flutter in the gentle breeze is a thrilling garden experience.
Your UF/IFAS extension office is staffed with agents and volunteer Master Gardeners who can assist you with more information on plant selection and care to create a beautiful butterfly garden for your home. Also, here is a link to the UF/IFAS publication http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw057
By: Mr. Bill – Master Gardener Since 2017