Live Oak —
By Carolyn Saft
UF/IFAS Extension Suwannee County Horticulture Agent
There are more than 765 species of butterflies found in North America north of Mexico. Florida boasts over 180 verified butterfly species representing some 170 native or newly established species and 17 tropical vagrants. We are so fortunate to have approximately 125 different butterflies in North Florida. Within that mix, around 40 are considered either unique to the state or occur mostly within its boundaries. This diverse butterfly fauna is the highest of any state east of the Mississippi River and helps make Florida a premier location for butterfly gardeners.
Not only do they bring a smile to our face, they also play an important ecological role in our landscapes. Butterfly adults help pollinate our flowers and the larvae provide food for many other critters including songbirds. Most adult butterflies found in Florida rely on flower nectar for food. While many tend to be attracted to a variety of available brightly-colored blossoms, different butterfly species have distinct color preferences, feeding behaviors, and proboscis lengths. (The butterfly's proboscis is like a long coiled straw used to sip liquid nectar from flowers.) These factors help determine which flowers a butterfly visits. As a rule, small butterflies nectar from small flowers and large butterflies nectar from larger ones. Some butterflies flutter like a hummingbird while feeding, pausing only briefly at each flower. They can often gain access to nectar in long tubular blossoms. Others rest for some time on each blossom. A wide mix of flower colors, shapes, and sizes provides appealing and accessible food to a greater number of butterfly species. It also makes your garden more eye-catching.
Some adult butterfly species rarely or never visit flowers. They feed instead on tree sap, or the fermenting juices from rotting fruit or plant material, animal dung (droppings), and dead animal remains. It takes all kinds to make an interesting world.
The funny thing about butterfly gardening is that you must plant larval plants that the caterpillars will munch on until they are just little stubs sticking up from the ground. Adult butterflies will come and visit, but if you want them to stay you must have their favorite host plant for their larvae to feed on. We suggest that you tuck and mix these larval plants in with evergreen and flowering plants so that you don’t have a mass of half eaten plants in one area. Adult butterflies will not lay their eggs just anywhere so larval host plants must be tailored to individual butterfly species that you are trying to attract. So…, unless you have acres of land at your disposal, you will need to be selective in your plant choices.
There are few things more enjoyable than watching a child chase butterflies or when they view a new butterfly emerge from a pupae, it really opens their eyes to the wonders of nature. Since many of our youth spend limited time outside, butterfly gardening offers an interactive opportunity to engage kids in learning about science and our natural environments. The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) has a butterfly checklist you can download from their website and also holds events to count butterflies annually. There is a North Florida Chapter that is available for specific information to our area. Another idea is to take a day trip down to Gainesville to the Butterfly Rainforest where live butterflies are fluttering around a large atrium filled with butterfly plants. While visiting there, you might get lucky and have butterflies land on you if you hold still long enough or are wearing the right perfume.
The UF/IFAS Extension Suwannee County Master Gardeners will be hosting a workshop, “Attracting Butterflies to Your Yard” on March 13, 2014 from 9:00am-11:30 am at Heritage Park and Gardens. For more information about the workshop or to get a publication about Butterfly Gardening, please contact Carolyn Saft (firstname.lastname@example.org), Pam Burke (email@example.com), or Kasey Bass (firstname.lastname@example.org) call 362-2771,
The University of Florida is an equal opportunity institution. Information for this article was taken from “Butterfly Gardening in Florida” by Jaret C. Daniels, Joe Schaefer, Craig N. Huegel, and Frank J. Mazzott.