Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
November, 2007
Regional Report

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Keep the nectar plants blooming all winter with a mixed annual flower bed.

Gardening for Butterfly Larvae

If you want to attract butterflies to your garden, it's important to grow the nectar plants that butterflies and moths seek. Many of our garden favorites provide nectar for adult butterflies, so attracting them is easy. But don't forget the plants best suited for egg laying and larval development. Although some of these larvae plants are less flashy, food plants are the ones that yield the adult beauties.

Some of the most vital food plants in our region are considered weeds by many people. Both queen and monarch butterflies, for example, will only lay their eggs on milkweed (Aesclepias), a plant that succumbs readily to herbicides used in lawns and on roadsides.

Passionflower may be the nearest to a universal butterfly food source. It is favored by the julia, gulf fritillary, and zebra longwing butterflies so often seen this time of year in south Florida. Any flowering shrub will offer needed shelter from the wind for the fragile flyers, but adding cassia or other legumes to the scene will nourish the sulfurs. This group is large and widespread in its territory, ranging from white to yellow and orange as adults; some also eat plants in the cabbage family. Carrot and its relatives host the horned, wildly striped larvae of black swallowtail butterflies.

Citrus leaves are favored by the giant swallowtail, which goes to extreme lengths to insure its future: the larvae are camouflaged, looking remarkably like bird poop, which helps them survive predators looking for a tasty caterpillar lunch.

This month, plant fennel or dill for butterflies to feast on, along with some of the food plants suggested here. Add flat rocks near food plants and nectar plants where butterflies can rest awhile, and a water source. If you can set up a mister on a birdbath, or simply put a shallow pan of water in the area, you'll increase the chances of your yard becoming a "hot spot" for butterflies.

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