Ah, Spring – Bring On the Native Butterflies

They flap. They glide. They flutter. What can it be?

Butterflies. Their beauty makes us gasp. Here is another gasp – full immersion native butterfly gardening turns your yard into a butterfly world. Admission is free every day.

Butterflies on red Pentas

Planting certain flowers, called adult food sources in butterfly lingo, like pentas, brings them in like the smell of French fries draws people to you know where. Adding host plants, like milkweed, a site where they can lay eggs and then the caterpillars, means you are going to be there for the whole metamorphis thing – butterflies, eggs, caterpillars, and then chrysalis emerging as butterflies.

A monarch butterfly crystalis. Look close and see the butterfly
Blue passion vine flower

Let’s see now – beautiful flowers, butterflies wafting through the air, saving their species for the future by ensuring they can lay eggs – oh, joy, what is the plan to do this?

giant swallowtail

WARNING: Butterfly gardening can be addictive. Once you get your first arbor and plant passion vine or pipe vine, there will be another, and another.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Here we go:

• Start with inspiration. Walk around your neighborhood and see what butterflies are already there (assuming your neighbors have more than just grass and verbena bushes – this doesn’t cut it for butterflies). If you see no butterflies then you are going to be the local pioneer.

• Visit a paid admission butterfly garden like Butterfly Rainforest in Gainesville. Their Web site has a new identification guide. Take pictures then go on the Web and find the names.

• Another source of inspiration – Butterfly World in Coconut Creek. They really get into host plants. They have an arbor garden loaded with passion vines. Check out the Butterfly Campaign on their Web site. Visitors ask, “How can we bring butterflies back?” The answer: plant host plants so butterflies can lay their eggs.

Pipevine in bloom

• Another suggestion – Greathouse Butterfly Farm in Melrose. Check with them ahead of time about visiting hours – they change with the season.

• For free, go visit your nearest native plant nursery and walk around. One time when I needed milkweed badly (see my “Milkweed Crisis” blog) I went to Taylor Gardens Nursery, Inc. in Sparr. Both Gulf Fritillaries and Zebra Longwings, the Florida state butterfly, were swarming over the milkweed plants.

• Get a free pamphlet from your local Master Gardeners office on Florida butterflies and the host plants they need.

• Visit any of a number of Web sites about Florida butterflies for information on how to begin, nectar plants, host plants and the all important rule of thumb – stop using pesticides, they kill butterflies.

monarch caterpillar

• Check out your local community for any upcoming gardening festivals. Vendors will have host and nectar plants and they know which butterflies like which plants.


• The biggest event is the 17th annual Epcot Flower & Garden Festival opening March 3 and continuing until May 16.

• The Master Gardener Spring Festival in Ocala, March 12-13 is where I go for local inspiration.

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville hosts their Spring Garden Festival March 26 and 27.

• In DeLand the Florida Wildflower & Garden Festival takes place March 26 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• In Fort Pierce on Saturday, April 23 is the “Spring Into Gardening” festival.

Ah, spring. A perfect time to dig into native butterfly gardening. The winged wonders, these floating masterpieces, thank you in advance for saving their future.

Copyright 2011 Lucy Beebe Tobias, author of “50 Great Walks in Florida” and currently part of the Florida Audubon campaign 53 Parks in 53 Days.