Pollinators are one of the wildlife populations most impacted by climate change, pesticide use, and habitat loss. Bees, hummingbirds, bats, and butterflies are all facing unprecedented threats as they struggle to adapt and survive the changing rhythms of weather and the seasons and changes to their natural landscape. After opening the new Butterfly Conservatory at Flamingo Gardens earlier this year, we’ve been flooded with questions regarding which plants are best to attract butterflies. Before we answer that question, it is important to understand the difference between butterfly nectar source plants and butterfly host plants.
Nectar source plants attract adult butterflies by supplying nectar (sugar-rich liquid). These plants vary in size, fragrance, and shape of the flower. All nectar source plants have nectar that is sipped by the butterfly, but the plant is not eaten by them. Most butterflies are attracted to almost all nectar plants, but it is specific butterfly host plants that are truly important for their survival.
Host plants (or larval plants) are plants that the butterfly larvae will eat. Butterfly species lay their eggs on or near the specific host plants that their caterpillar larvae will eat. Each species has a very narrow range of host plants that supply the necessary chemicals required for proper nourishment and growth of the caterpillars. Without enough of these critical host plants, caterpillar larvae will starve and die, threatening the very existence of butterfly species populations.
Here are the necessary host plants needed to attract some of the more desired Broward County native butterflies to your garden:
Host Plants for Monarch and Queen Butterfly
(and Soldier Butterfly, not shown)
Giant Milkweed (Calotropis gigantea)
White Twinevine (Funastrum clausum)
Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias perennis)
Host Plants for Zebra Longwing, Julia, and Gulf Fritillary Butterfly
Corkystem Passionflower (Passiflora suberosa)
Purple Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Lady Margaret Passionflower (Passiflora Lady Margaret)
Host Plants for Orange-barred Sulphur
(and Cloudless Sulfur Butterfly, not shown)
Popcorn Cassia (Senna didymobotrya)
Bahama Cassia (Senna mexicana chapmanii)
Host Plant for Statira Sulphur Butterfly
Red Powderpuff (Calliandra haematocephala)
Host Plant for White Peacock
(and the Phaon Crescent and Common Buckeye Butterfly, not shown)
Frog Fruit, (Phyla nodiflora)
Host Plant for Atala Butterfly
Coontie (Zamia integrifolia)
Host Plant for Malachite Butterfly
Carolina wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis)
Host Plants for Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Wild Lime (Zanthoxylum fagara) or any citrus or lime plant
Host Plants for Black Swallowtail Butterfly
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) or dill or fennell
A cautionary warning- caterpillars will devour the host plants! You’ll want to provide several of each species of host plant you select so there is plenty of food for the caterpillars to eat. You don’t want the caterpillars to run out of food midway through their growth cycle. Most gardeners don’t like the look of caterpillar-ravaged host plants in their gardens, so plant the host plants interspersed among nectar plants to hide the half-eaten leaves.
Butterfly conservation organizations agree that we can help our native butterfly populations become more resilient by providing the proper host or larval plants in our landscape. With just a little effort and the proper host plants, you can attract these Broward County native butterflies to your yard and help them survive! If you wish to learn more about Florida butterflies and establishing a butterfly garden, the University of Florida has excellent information on Butterfly Gardening in Florida at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW05700.pdf