Real butterfly gardeners have plants that looks like they have had a fresh shave with only a few stems sticking up. It is amazing when your plants are full of leaves and then within a couple of days, they are almost completely defoliated.
Diversity of Species
Amazingly, Florida has over 180 verified butterfly species. Approximately 170 are native or newly established species. Residents can also lure in about 17 tropical migratory drifters. Within that mix, around 40 are considered either unique to the state or occur mostly within its boundaries. Florida’s diverse butterfly fauna is the highest of any state east of the Mississippi River and helps provide butterfly gardeners endless delights.
Larval and Nectar Plants
Keep in mind, true butterfly gardens consider the food preferences of both adult butterflies and their larvae (caterpillars). Yes, you will need to plant plants meant to be stripped of their leaves and consumed by the very hungry caterpillars. Most adult butterflies feed on flower nectar and will be attracted to a wide variety of different flowers. Their larvae (caterpillars), tough, rely on specific plants called host plants for food and are often greatly limited in the number of plants on which they can feed. Host plants may also provide shelter, camouflage, chemicals used for protection, courtship, and reproduction. The most important thing to understand is that different butterfly species have different requirements, and these requirements change throughout their life cycles.
A well-planted butterfly garden should appeal to many different butterflies. Different butterfly species have distinct color preferences, feeding behaviors, and proboscis lengths. (The butterfly’s proboscis is like a long-coiled straw used to sip liquid nectar from flowers.) These factors help determine which flowers butterflies visit. Select a site with plenty of sunlight to ensure flowering of nectar plants and a place for newly emerged butterflies to dry their wings.
North Florida Butterflies
In North Florida, look for various Swallowtail butterflies (Black, Tiger, Zebra), Hairstreaks (Great Purple and Red banded), Sulfurs, Ceraunus Blue, Gulf Fritillary and our state butterfly the Zebra Longwing. To learn more about the plants they are attracted to, go to https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw057. Dancing butterflies make our gardens come to life. The more you watch them, the more you realize just how fascinating nature is. The next time you are outside, look around and county the number of butterflies in your yard. If you have multiple species, you know you have a healthy ecosystem for butterflies and other pollinators.