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Butterfly Garden Basics

Compiled by Dr. Jaret C. Daniels, Entomology and Nematology, University of Florida

A well-planned butterfly garden becomes a small but representative sample of the surrounding habitat and as such provides a safe haven for butterflies and other wildlife to gather, seek shelter, acquire food and water, and reproduce.

Major Components of a Successful Butterfly Garden

  1. Adult nectar sources: attract and nourish adult butterflies.
  2. Larval host plants: attract ovipositing female butterflies, serve as a food source for developing larvae.
  3. Shelter: vegetation that provides protection from temperature extremes, storms/rain, and predators as well as locations for roosting/sleeping.
  4. Water source with fountain: allows for easy and consistent access to water for drinking and thermoregulation.

Garden Design

  1. Provide a combination of adult nectar sources and larval host plants: attracts maximum variety of butterfly species; encourages butterflies to remain in your yard, reproduce, and build populations instead of just passing through; allows gardener to appreciate all life stages.
  2. Incorporate native plants into the landscape whenever possible: most larval host plants are natives. They're adapted to the region, will produce a small but representative extension of the natural ecosystem, and can attract other wildlife.
  3. Create horizontal and vertical heterogeneity: choosing plants that have different heights and growth habits creates numerous microclimates which in turn appeal to a greater diversity of butterfly species; provides shelter; creates levels/strata of feeding opportunities.
  4. Aim for a consistent host plant and floral venue throughout the growing season: choose plants that have different blooming times; ensures that garden remains attractive and productive as long as possible; provides food for butterflies during periods of low natural availability.
  5. Provide a number of different flower colors: different butterfly species are attracted to different flower colors so include yellow, orange, white, and blue flowers as well as reds, pinks, and purples.
  6. Provide a mix of flower shapes: the feeding behavior and proboscis length of a butterfly dictate which flowers will be visited: long-tubed flowers, for example are typically more accessible to species with long probosces whereas many composites (daisy-like flowers) provide a feeding platform and easy nectar accessibility for smaller species.
  7. Plant in shade as well as full sun: appeals to more butterfly species; many forest species prefer shadier locations.
  8. Plant in groupings: are aesthetically pleasing; provide masses of color; are more apparent in landscape; allow larvae to locate additional food resources in event of shortage.
  9. Choose appropriate plants for each location: understand each plan's basic water, light, and soil requirements so it will perform and grow to its maximum potential.

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Garden Maintenance

  1. Give new plants a good start: water and mulch new plantings to insure firm establishment.
  2. Fertilize: a regular fertilizing regiment will produce maximum growth and flower production.
  3. Avoid pesticide application when possible: all butterfly life history stages are very sensitive to pesticides; avoid Bacillus thuringiensis; when pest problem arises treat it locally; use beneficial insects/natural enemies.
  4. Learn to identify the butterfly species in your garden: provides greater enjoyment; allows for gardener to "plant" for particular local species.

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Benefits of Butterfly Gardening

  1. Attract wildlife: bring butterflies and other wildlife into your garden for purposes of enjoyment, observation, study, and photography.
  2. Ecosystem/habitat conservation: a well-planned butterfly garden becomes a small, but representative sample of the surrounding habitat and as such provides a safe haven for butterflies and other wildlife to gather, seek shelter, acquire food and water, reproduce and build populations; do not underestimate the importance of even a small garden.
  3. Practical benefits:
    • Use of native plants: hardy and drought-tolerant, disease/pest resistant, adapted to region so perform better under local conditions.
    • Food for natural enemies: healthy butterfly populations attract and sustain healthy populations of beneficial insects/organisms as well as provide food for birds, lizards, mammals, etc. which in turn help control garden pests; most butterfly nectar sources also attract beneficial insects.
    • Plant diversity: less susceptible to pests/individual plants less apparent in landscape; large number of microclimates provide home/shelter for other insects including beneficials.
  4. Scientific: keeping detailed logs on the butterfly species encountered, times, abundance can provide important and useful information on butterfly population numbers nationwide.
  5. Therapeutic: provide soothing retreat from every day life
    • Herbs: most herbs are also excellent butterfly attractants; useful culinary plants and provide wonderful aromatherapy.

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Herbs for Butterflies

  • Angelica, Angelica spp.
  • Anise, Pimpinella anisum
  • Anise Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum
  • Basil, Ocimum spp.
  • Bee Balm, Mondara didyma
  • Caraway, Carum carvi
  • Chaste Tree, Vitex agnus-castus
  • Chives, Allium schoenoprasum
  • Cow Parsnip, Heracleum spp.
  • Culver's Root, Veronicastrum virginicum
  • Dill, Anethum graveolens
  • Dogbane, Apocynum cannabinum
  • Elephant Garlic, Allium ampeloprasum
  • Eupatorium, Eupatorium spp.
  • Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  • Horsemint, Monarda punctata
  • Hyssop, Hyssop officinalis
  • Lavender, Lavedula spp.
  • Lovage, Levisticum officinale
  • Mints, Mentha spp.
  • New Jersey Tea, Ceanothus americanus
  • Oregano, Origanum spp.
  • Parsley, Petroselinum crispum
  • Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans
  • Plantain, Plantago spp.
  • Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
  • Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus carota
  • Rosemary, Rosmarinus spp.
  • Scarlet Sage, Salvia cocinea
  • Thyme, Thymus spp.
  • Virginia Skullcap, Scutellaria laterifolia
  • Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa
  • Wild Celery, Apium graveolens
  • Yarrow, Achillea spp.

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Butterflies of North Central Florida & Their Host Plants

Swallowtails, Family Papilionidae
  1. Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes
    • Hercules'-Club, Zanthozylum clava-hercules
    • Wild Lime, Zanthoxylum fagara
    • Common Rue, Ruta graveolens
    • Orange, Lemon and Grapefruit, Citrus spp.
  2. Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus
    • Black Cherry, Prunus serotina
    • Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana
    • Sweet Bay, Magnolia virginiana
    • Tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera
    • Ash, Fraxinus spp.
  3. Palamedes Swallowtail, Papilio palamedes
    • Red Bay, Persea borbonia
    • Swamp Bay, Persea palustris
    • Sweet Bay, Magnolia virginiana
  4. Spicebush Swallowtail, Papilio troilus
    • Sassafras, Sassafras albidum
    • Camphor tree, Cinnamonum camphora
    • Spicebush, Lindera benzoin
  5. Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes
    • Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
    • Dill, Anethum graveolens
    • Parsely, Petroselinium crispum
    • Carrot, Daucus carota
    • Virtually all other wild or cultivated members of the carrot family, Apiaceae
  6. Zebra Swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus
    • Pawpaw, Asimina spp.
  7. Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor
    • Virginia Snakeroot, Aristolochia virginiana
    • Wooly pipe-vine, Aristolochia tomentosa
    • Dutchman's Pipe, Aristolochia macrophylla
    • Other pipe-vines, Aristolochia spp.
  8. Polydamas Swallowtail, Battus polydamas
    • Pipevines, Aristolochia spp.

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