Better Butterfly Basking

Photo by: Pat Birdsong

On a family trip to Flamingo Gardens, my toddler was absolutely delighted by their butterflies. They have a spectacular array of species fluttering around. Pat Birdsong, Volunteer Coordinator, beautifully captured this malachite on the Seminole dombeya, also referred to as the Florida hydrangea or tropical rose hydrangea.

Gardening has been a long time hobby of mine. As a young girl, my older sister and I would grow veggies and flowers in our backyard. My dream has always been to one day do the same with my own children. Now that my daughter really enjoys the outdoors, it couldn’t be a better time to start a vegetable and butterfly garden. Ultimately, we would be cooking and eating healthier (another one of my hobbies, making Paleo recipe’s), be more active, and maybe even enjoy a few butterfly sitings.

How can you attract butterflies?

Nectar-producing flowering plants provide food for butterflies. Host plants provide leaves for laying eggs, camouflage, shelter, reproduction, and larvae food. Seems only right to include both and help mother nature along.

The hydrangea supply the ever desired nectar enjoyed by butterflies and bees. Luckily, I have already planted a few in my front lawn (without even knowing!). I wouldn’t recommend placing them near an entry way or seating area as they attract many other buzzing insects. 

Once thought to be extinct the eumaeus atala depend on the coontie to survive.  They can be spotted in Flamingo Gardens on these host plants. They lay their eggs, and once hatched, the caterpillar eat large amounts of the leaves.

My latest gardening attempts were reserved to small containers on a balcony (since I lived on a second floor apartment). Before you knew it, with just a few flowers and herbs, butterflies were visiting. I once found a caterpillar feasting on my herbs! Somehow, I had unintentionally attracted these beautiful creatures, a pleasant surprise indeed.

Do you want to share your edible leafy greens with these creepy crawlers?

Butterflies can sometimes wander away from flowers, and caterpillars may find their way into your edible garden. First, I’d be sure to place your butterfly garden as far from your vegetable garden as possible. If you do find a caterpillar away from it’s home, you can hand pick and place it back on a host plant. After all, it’s a small price to pay and very few species are considered serious garden pests.

Actually certain butterflies are finding it increasingly difficult to find their habitat. The Monarch Joint Venture, encourages gardeners to create a habitat for the monarchs and their caterpillars. They were first listed as an endangered species in 1983. In 2010, the World Wildlife Fund included the monarch in the “Top 10 To Watch” list of species that needed to still be closely monitored and protected for their survival. Even a small home garden can make a difference.

 Photo by: Pat Birdsong

This monarch caterpillar is feeding on the milkweed plant. It is a necessity for their survival as they eat large amounts of the leaves. Planting milkweed in your garden will not only attract the monarch but help them thrive.

Fall is an agreeable time to get outdoors and start planting in South Florida. I hope you have been inspired to do so as well. Let’s enjoy nature, every bit of it. From the birds and the bees, to the butterflies and even the creepy crawlers.

Here is a helpful site that will get any butterfly garden in Florida on it’s way. Complete with butterfly species and larval food preferences.


With the help of my husband and one friendly neighbor, we built two, 8ft. x 4ft. raised garden beds to start my edible home garden. I placed them near the kitchen window so I can see what’s ripe for the pickin’ while I’m preparing a meal.