Native Plants Bring Birds & Butterflies

Native Plants Bring Birds & Butterflies
native plants - Jeff Nurge of Delray Beach went native in his yard
native plants – Jeff Nurge of Delray Beach went native in his yard

Jeff Nurge went native eight years ago. He planted native flowers, bushes and trees in an effort to attract wildlife. You can’t really tell from the front – native trees and bushes are spaced apart. It is the sides and back of the house that get your attention.

Native plants attract birds and butterflies

These areas pulse with dense green foliage not unlike well, wild Florida.

Narrow paths make passing through possible. Seemingly random growth turns out to have specific lures for wildlife – a red bay, for example, has tiny flowers that bees love and the tree is a good shelter for birds.

native plants
native plants

“I wanted to see birds, snakes, owls, butterflies,” says the Delray Beach resident. And he does. In addition he wanted to conserve water. That too is happening.

A back fence has completely disappeared, hidden under flourishing firebush.

“This is a huge butterfly attractor,” Jeff comments. “Firebush is the number one native plant. This is the first plant to start with.”

I’m startled and surprised by what it means to go native. It means forget neat and manicured. This was once a conventional yard with grass underfoot and fence to mark the property line. Now it vibrates with exuberance and yes, a touch of chaos, all for a good cause – there is only so much space and so many natives to plant and so little time.

You see our wildlife is in trouble.

“So many landscapes are loaded with exotics,” notes Jeff. “They are beautiful but they are dead zones for wildlife. They have color and texture but where are the bees, the birds, the lizards?”

Native plants are good for water conservation

Dead zones? Beauty that kills here in Florida? Sounds like a science fiction novel but no, this is the real deal.

“The bird population and butterflies are not finding the food they need – the migrating birds need to feed in Florida to migrate to South America. If they can’t find the right food, they don’t make it.”

In my back yard, a haven with water fountains and bird feeders, or so I thought, the bird numbers have been dwindling in recent years. I was hoping they got a better offer and are happy somewhere else. Now I wonder if they made it from one year to the next.

Going native turns out to be a call to action – do you want to save native wildlife? Then turn your dead zone into a native buffet and you can do it one plant at a time. Before visiting Jeff I thought my side yard would become a fruit orchard. Now it is going native.

I planted firebush along the fence line. You go, you native you. Do your thing. The butterflies will love you.


• Jeff recommends several native plant nurseries in his area including Pan’s Garden in Palm Beach, Meadow Beauty Nursery and Indian Trails Native Nursery, both in Lake Worth.

• “A Gardener’s Guide to Florida’s Native Plants” (paperback) by Rufino Osorio, here is the Amazon link and it is in our bookstore on my Website.

• Jeff, who is also a Master Gardener, has turned his native passion into a consulting business. Visit his Website to know more.

Master Gardeners, an outreach program by IFAS University of Florida, may have an office near you. They can be immensely helpful, especially with micro irrigation and drought resistant plant suggestions.

Florida Native Plant Society has chapters throughout the state.

• Here is the link for University of Florida IFAS Extension section on native plants. IFAS means the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

• Native plant nurseries will only flourish if people vote with their wallets and buy native. Here is a listing of native plant sources from Florida Gardener.

While milkweed is not a native it is the necessary larval plant for monarch butterflies. Learn more at the Live Monarch Foundation.

©2009 Lucy Beebe Tobias, all rights reserved.


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Milkweed Crisis in the Backyard

Milkweed Crisis in the Backyard

Holy cow! I’ve got a crisis! In my backyard the monarch caterpillars have chomped through all the leaves on the milkweed plants and they are still hungry. The very last milkweed has five, count them FIVE caterpillars and only TWO leaves left. That isn’t going to cut it. Will they die as caterpillars and never turn into butterflies if they don’t get more milkweed leaves?

milkweed stripped of leaves

Aggggggh! I don’t know the answer but I don’t like the numbers. Rushing to Lowe’s I search in vain for milkweed. “Nope, we don’t have any,” says a bored clerk. I’m sure my crisis would seem like comedy to her. I don’t bother to explain. Rushing back home I phone Taylor Gardens Nursery in Citra.

Milkweed plants are host plants for Monarch butterflies

Guda tells me to come on out, she has a few pots of milkweed left. I drive almost a half hour and ask for five pots, figuring a feast for each caterpillar.

“You know it is late for monarchs to be doing caterpillars,” Guda comments as she picks up pots and pulls out a few weeds. Even as she speaks several female monarchs are flying nearby, looking to lay eggs on the milkweeds.

Monarchs and milkweeds go together like bacon and eggs. They need each other. While some flowers supply nectar for butterflies, each species has its own host plant that it must find to lay its eggs.

That’s why butterfly gardeners will plant say, a red penta, to attract butterflies, and nearby are plants like milkweed and fennel and passion vine for different kinds of butterflies to lay their eggs.

Eggs hatch, caterpillars eat and eat, then metamorphosis happens, they change form completely and emerge as beautiful flying canvases of color.

I hurried home, grabbed a shovel and planted milkweed along the fence line then carefully transferred each caterpillar to its own plant. They began chomping immediately. Crisis solved!

monarch caterpillar
monarch caterpillar eating milkweed leaf

Yes, I know, it isn’t on the same level as solving the economic crisis or bringing our troops home but somehow making a difference in my backyard makes a difference. You have got to start somewhere.

Did you know that monarchs need your help? Killing freezes in Mexico destroyed 75 percent of the wintering population of monarchs from North America. In the spring, summer and fall they need milkweed here to lay their eggs and there is a national shortage of milkweed. It used to grow a lot by the side of the road but spraying and deep cutting has eliminated them.

Milkweed plants in your yard will help save Monarch butterflies

The Live Monarch foundation seeks to grow milkweed in every back yard! You can get free milkweed seeds by sending a stamped, addressed envelope (with a suggested donation of $2) to: Live Monarch Foundation – Seeds, 3003-C8 Yamato Road #1015, Boca Raton, Florida 33434.

If you don’t want to get down and dirty and dig in the dirt, adopt an online butterfly and watch your monarch go from an egg to an adult butterfly. You get an update every few days with pictures. This is a free educational experience. What are you waiting for? I’m signing up today then going outside to check on the milkweed plants.

New milkweed plants along the fence line
New milkweed plants along the fence line

Lucy Beebe Tobias is the author of “50 Great Walks in Florida”, University Press of Florida, and the Authentic Florida Expert for VISIT FLORIDA

Lucy’s  book Florida Gardens Gone Wild(er), second edition, 2015, has excellent butterfly garden suggestions

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Photographs of Life Moments at Villa Lucia

Photographs. As a reporter it used to get to me when people said “a picture is worth a 1000 words”, hey, I was the one writing those words! Why should the photographers have all the fun?But sometimes they do. This is one of those times.

Photographs tell the story ever so well

Here are four photos capturing current moments from my home Villa Lucia – they are worth 4000 words! Enjoy

An iris in bloom next to the pond. There are four in bloom right now, on tall spikes about four feet high. Very showy. This is the lovely thing about seasons in Florida. With planning, something can be blooming every month all through the seasons of summer, spring, fall and winter.
Photographs = iris

Finally! A swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on the fennel in the back yard. I’d been hoping the swallowtails would lay their eggs on the fennel, conveniently located right next to a bright red penta. They got the message! Now I’m going to add a cassia plant. Swallowtails like to lay eggs there too.
photographs - swallowtail caterpillar

Mexican pentas in bloom. The pond area is full of them, all volunteers. Perhaps the birds bring the seeds?
photographs - Mexican penta

And last, but certainly not least, please join me in welcoming Obi, a two-year old Corgi from Sunshine Corgi Rescue and the newest family member. He is the missing piece of the puzzle for us! Obi joins Annie, a Golden Retriever/Terrier mix, and five cats, all of whom like the fact that Obi has short legs and isn’t much taller then they are. Here’s to great walks, playtime and bonding.
photographs - Obi the welsh corgi

Lucy Beebe Tobias is the Authentic Florida Expert for VISIT FLORIDA and the author of “50 Great Walks in Florida”, University of Florida Press, February, 2008. ©2008 Lucy Beebe Tobias. All rights reserved.


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