Florida Butterfly Garden: Selecting native plants to attract butterflies
Photo by Melody

Florida Butterfly Garden: Selecting native plants to attract butterflies

By Jacqueline Cross (libellule)June 15, 2008
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There is something magical about butterflies. I have yet to meet a person in the garden that does not smile when one glides by, landing on the nearest bloom. Butterflies are just one more living thing in the garden that brings happiness to young and old alike. For the older of us, they bring back sweet childhood memories. For the youngest of us, they encourage imagination and launch them into a ballet dance through the garden. To me, butterflies represent youth, memories and happiness. For this reason, I'd like to create a place they can visit and grow from one generation to the next.

Gardening picture The key to creating a butterfly garden that will sustain itself through the years is to take advantage of native plants. Availing yourself of what nature has created in your specific area leads to fewer errors in the trial and error phase while creating the perfect butterfly garden.


Florida is home to a considerable number of plant species. Conditions in the state enable Floridians to grow in four different climates. The northern part of Florida has four seasons, though the winters are not extreme, there are freezes. The summers can be hotter than central and south Florida. As you travel further south into central Florida, the climate becomes subtropical, although, they can have a hard freeze during extreme winters. The climate tends to be more tropical in the Keys.

 

ImageImageAccording to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map Florida gardeners are growing in six zones. Like anywhere, depending on your location, you may be able to grow plants outside of their typical zones. That comes under the heading of ‘trial and error'. We may try but nature teaches us the error of our ways.

 

Following is a list of plants that are native to Florida. It is only a sampling of the native plants one can grow in the Sunshine State. You may want to do a more in-depth search to locate the perfect plants for your garden and zone.


The first list is perennials. Tried and true, perennials come back year after year without having to replant them. Given the right conditions and care, they will reward you every spring for many years to come.

 

ImagePerennialsImage

Plant

Uses

Growing Habits

Water, Light & Soil

Zone

Blazing star Liatris spicata

 

Nectar/Host

1 1/2-4ft

Grows wild in the sandy pine forests
of Florida.

Full sun

Moderate to dry

Does well in average garden soil.
Can survive
in sandy soil.

5-10

Reported to grow as far north as zone 3.

Climbing Aster Symphyotrichum carolinianum

 

Nectar/Host

Up to 12 ft

This is a vine but will simply trail along the ground
when there is nothing to climb up.

Sun/partial shade

Wet to dry soil

6-10

 

Dalea Dalea carthagenensis

Nectar

This is a clover so it stays small. (Florida Prairie Clover)

Grows wild in the woods and fields.

Sun/Partial shade

Average to dry

Average garden soil/Sandy

Grows in all of FL (except the Keys)

 

Florida Paintbrush Carphephorus corymbosus

Nectar/Host 12-36 in

Full Sun

Average water tolerates dry soil

Likes good garden soil but does well
in sandy soil.

8-10

 

Florida phlox Phlox floridana

Nectar

12-18 in

Phlox will cover a large area in just a few years. They are lovely as part of a meadow planting.

Sun/partial shade

Average water

Fertile, well-drained soil

5-10

 

Goldenrod Solidago
fistulosa

Nectar/Host

36-48 in.

Goldenrod grows in nearly any soil. It can be seen in all it's brilliance in the fall on roadsides & in fields all over the state.

An old folk tale is that when you see the goldenrod blooming, there are only six more weeks til winter.

Full Sun

Average water

Average/dry soil

5-11

 

Lobelia Lobelia
cardinalis

Nectar

18-24in.

This flower can also be grown n a boggy spot in your garden.

Sun/partial shade

Any good moist garden soil.

3-10

 

Lyre-leaf sage Salvia lyrata

Nectar 12-18 in.

Sun/partial shade

Average water

Needs good moist garden soil for best color.

5-10

 

Milkweed Asclepias feayi

Nectar/Host

24-38 in.

This plant is host to the Monarch butterfly.

Sun.light shade.

Average water/dry.

Average to moist garden soil.

3-8

 

Mistflower Eupatorium coelestinum

 

Nectar/Host

1-2 ft

The mistflower doesn't like to dry out.

Sun/partial shade.

Slightly more than average water.

Any moist well-drained garden soil.

4-11

 

Passionflower Passiflora

Nectar/Host6-10 ft or more

Sun/partial shade

Average water.

Average garden soil.

6-10

 

Pennyroyal Piloblephis rigida

Nectar 12-24 in.

Full sun.

Average water/drought tolerant

Average to dry soil.

8-10

Purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea

 

Host

24-30in.

*I found conflicting reports on this plant (it is a native or it isn't a native of florida)

Full sun light shade.

Average water is drought tolerant.

Well-drained soil.

4-9

Purple top Verbena bonariensis

 

Nectar/Host

 

3-6 ft

 

Full sun/light shade.

Average/dry water

Average/dry good garden soil.

7-11

 

Sage Salvia azurea

Nectar 36-48 in.

Full sun/ afternoon shade

Average but needs water during very dry spells

Well drained to dry soil.

4-9

 

Sea lavender Limonium carolinianum

Host 6-24 in.

Full sun

Water regularly, soil should be kept moist.

Constantly moist soil

5-11

 

Southern sage Salvia riparia

Nectar

24-36 in.

Can get as wide as it is tall.
It will have the look of a small shrub.

Light shade best.

Average water. Do not overwater. Sage don't like wet feet.

Good garden soil but will grow in poor soil.

8-10 (can be grown as an annual in other zones)

 

Stoke's aster Stokesia laevis

Nectar/Host

12-18 in.

I have these planted in poor soil, rich soil, sun, light shade and full shade. They do equally as well in all situations in my yard.

Full sun but also does well in shade.

Average water.

Average to dry soil. Will grow in poor sandy soil.

5-10

TampaVervain Glandularia tampensis

 

Nectar 12-18 in.

Sun/partial shade.

Average water.

Good well drained garden soil.

8-9

 

Tick-seed Coreopsis lanceolata

Nectar/Host12-18 in.

Full sun.

Water regularly

Average moist soil.

4-9

 

Trailing phlox Phlox nivalis

Nectar

4 in.

This is a mossy phlox It grows in mounds appr. 3' wide.

Full sun.

After established, water sparingly.

Hot, dry, well-drained garden soil.

5-9

 

Tropical sage Salvia coccinea

Nectar

18-24 in.

This plant can tolerate dry conditions but if the dry spell is an extended one, you will need to give it a good drink now and then.

Sun/dappled shade.

Average water.

Good, well drained garden soil.

8-10

Reseeds annually in 6-8.

 

Wild petunia Ruellia caroliniensis

Host

6-36 in.

This plant actually reached 5' in my garden.

Sun/partial shade.

Average water

Average, well
drained soil.

6-10
  
Image
  

 

Flowering bushes are a favorite of all wildlife, including butterflies. Bushes not only add interest to the landscape. They also provide ample food and shelter for the visitors to your yard. Below is a short list of flowering bushes you may want to plant in order to draw these little darlings to your gardens.

 

ImageBushesImage

Plant

Uses

Growing Habits

Water,
Light &
Soil

Zone

Azalea Rhododendron canescens

Nectar

H 10-12 ft.
S 10-12 ft


*Native to North Florida

Sun to light shade.

Average water but do not let dry out.

Good garden soil. Likes to grow under pine trees.

6-9

Firebush Hamelia patens

Nectar H 8-10 ft
S 4-6 ft.

Sun to light shade.

Average water.

Good garden soil.

8-11

Golden dewdrop
Duranta repens

Nectar H 4-6 ft
S 8-10 ft

Sun to light shade.

Average water but do not let it dry out.

Good garden soil.

9-10 (could be perennial in 8 & 11 with right conditions)

Crimson-eyed rose mallow
Hibiscus aculeatus

Nectar

H 4 ft.

*fuzzy okra-like leaves & stems will irritate skin

Full sun.

Likes wet feet.

Bog garden type soils.

7-10

Pineland lantana
Lantana depressa

Nectar

H 6-12 in.
S 15-18 in.

Sun to light shade.

Average water.

Good garden soil.

8-11

Red Buckeye
Aesculus pavia

Nectar H 8-10 ft.
S 12-15 ft.

Sun to light shade.

Average water.

 

4-8

Sweet pepperbush
Clethra alnifolia

Nectar

H 6-8 ft.
S 4-6 ft.

Sun to light shade.

Average water.

Good garden soil.

3-9
Possum haw
Viburnum nudum

Nectar/Host

H 6-10 ft.
S 6-12 ft.

Sun to light shade.

Average water.

Good garden soil.

5-9
  
Image
  


I have not included annuals in this article, however, there are many native annuals that freely reseed here in Florida. You may wish to look into which ones might add to your garden. I've also left trees off the list, but there are many that would be great additions to your yard.



The plants listed above are merely suggestions for a Florida native butterfly garden. We all need a starting point, and I hope this has given that to you. It is a good idea to do additional research, maybe even visit your local extension office to find out what grows best in your area.


There are many communities around the country that are beginning to see the validity of planting natives in their cities and towns. It is quite a movement, really. It warrants checking into if you are community minded. In many areas, much of the work is done by volunteers. This seems like a wonderful way to spend a weekend with your family, getting to know your neighbors. We may plant our own natives, in our own backyards, but our garden is the world. Making it better for everyone is a challenge worth taking up.


Happy Gardening~


Thank you to all the knowledgeable members of Dave's Garden for posting such great information in the PlantFiles.

Photographs courtesy of Dave's Garden members. These, along with many others can be
found in the PlantFiles section
here. You can also find many butterfly photographs here.

Here are some helpful links to send you on your search for the perfect
plants to create your own native butterfly garden.
Floridian-(Climbing Aster Symphyotrichum carolinianum)
Badseed-(Tickseed Coreopsis lanceolata)
PatP-(Sweet Pepper Bush Clethra alnifolia)
jataylor-(Firebush Hamelia patens)
trois-(Lyre-leaf sage Salvia lyrata)
onalee-(Gulf Fritillary)
TheLoveofFlowers-(Black Swallowtail)

Florida Native Plant Society
Florida Native Plants

Florida Plants
Nurseries that sell native plants (search by region)
Find your County Extension Office

*I have not included information about the toxicity of any plants listed. If you have children and/or pets that visit your gardens, please research your choices carefully so that everyone will be safe while enjoying your garden.



  About Jacqueline Cross  
Jacqueline CrossI'm a native Floridian...feet planted in the shifting sands of northwest FL. but my heart strings are tightly knotted to the hills of Tennessee. I live with my poodle, Minnie Pearl, Zsa Zsa the cat who runs the whole show and a new addition, Kitty Belle. I'm a writer, gardener, quilter, cross stitcher, soapmaker and nature lover. Mother to 3 wonderful daughters & Nana to 6 perfect grandchildren. I also write for Suite101.com and was promoted to Feature Writer in the vegetable gardens section in 2008.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
attracting butterflies eleanorann 1 15 Aug 24, 2008 5:37 PM
New York Butterfly garden HerbF 1 18 Jun 16, 2008 11:26 AM
So informative, concise and interesting! gessiegail 1 10 Jun 16, 2008 11:21 AM
nice article jataylor 3 16 Jun 16, 2008 3:17 AM
Asclepias jjacques 1 15 Jun 15, 2008 8:42 PM
AWESOME work! crimsontsavo 3 25 Jun 15, 2008 8:38 PM
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