by Amanda Rose Newton
Whether your backyard is several acres or a concrete slab, you can create a beautiful garden to entice important butterfly pollinators to stop by for a quick visit.
When creating a butterfly garden, the same rules apply despite your amount of space. Understanding which plants your favorite butterfly prefers as a caterpillar is a deciding factor in whether they decide to stop by or keep on going.
Much like human toddlers, caterpillars are fairly picky in what foods they deem tasty and they tend to stick to just one plant that is familiar to them. Adult butterflies, on the other hand, are content with anything that puts out a steady nectar supply. Pair both in the same container and you have a recipe that will bring both to the table!
To get you started on creating your own butterfly buffet, here is a brief list of common Florida garden visitors and their food preferences:
Monarch. We all know these famous marathon travelers. To make sure they stop by on the way to Mexico, be sure to add milkweed to your container display. Do try to choose one of our own native varieties as the tropical kind has been linked to declining populations. Check out www.monarchjointventure.org for more details on all things monarch and see what milkweed we have in stock here.
Zebra Longwing and Gulf Fritillary. Do you have room for multiple containers and trellis? If so, a single passion vine will certainly bring in the beautiful orange Gulf Fritillary butterfly, and if you are lucky, maybe even a Zebra Longwing or two!
Giant Swallowtail. This show-stopping butterfly loves munching on citrus as much as we do! If you happen to have space for dwarf citrus in a pot, feel free to add that to your display. Keep in mind you will lose some leaves to the hungry caterpillars, but if you are willing to share, you will be rewarded with some of the largest butterflies Florida has to offer. Check out the citrus trees we have in stock here.
Black Swallowtails. These butterflies are the easiest of the bunch to satisfy. They dine on dill, parsley, and fennel all of which look surprisingly beautiful paired with flowers in a container. The added texture and scent they add will leave you wondering why you didn’t mix them into arrangements sooner!
Pipevine Swallowtails. If you happen to have a shady corner and a trellis, consider growing a pipevine. This striking plant is quite the conversation piece, as is the caterpillar form of the Pipevine Swallowtail it attracts. It may win the award for the coolest looking caterpillar of the bunch (this would be an excellent Halloween costume).
Atala Butterfly. A true Florida native, the Atala Butterfly was thought to be extinct for several decades. Its host plant, our native cycad, the Coontie, has recently gained popularity as an ornamental and as increased the number of beautiful Atala butterflies you may see. The Coontie can also work in large pots, so it is not just limited to those with large yards.
Painted Lady. The Painted Lady is iconic across America and here in Florida it tends to go for milk thistles as well as hollyhock. Not exactly common in the landscape but still pretty in a container, it’s worth giving a try if you can locate it.
White Peacock. This butterfly is not as flamboyant as the rest, but is still beautiful and loves bacopa as a caterpillar. You must admit they have great taste!
Taking your newfound knowledge of caterpillar favorites, you can mix in a host plant or two with a couple of the nectar flowers below for an entrée that will please both palates.