Hendry County Cooperative Extension Office
PO Box 68,  Labelle,  Florida 33975

Butterfly Gardening


Butterfly gardening has become one of the hottest gardening topics in recent years - there is a great deal of interest in nurturing these colorful, airborne insects and attracting them to the garden.

Few outdoor activities are more rewarding and easily available than attracting butterflies to a well-designed garden.

Attracting butterflies adds a whole new dimension to gardening - by enticing butterflies into your yard you will not only be able to interact with these living jewels of nature in a way that may not be possible with larger wildlife, in the process you will also learn more about plants and our natural environment.


    SW Florida is a great place for butterfly gardening - our mild climate and diversity of ecosystems ensures that butterfly gardening can be enjoyed nearly
year round.  The possibilities for butterfly gardens are dizzying - they can be simple or complex.

  Florida is home to around one hundred species of butterflies, not including the skippers of which there are nearly seventy more.

  In addition to the dazzling kaleidoscope of colors and patterns that may observed, one of the most fascinating things about these gentle creatures is the amazing transformation or metamorphosesis that all butterflies undergo during the amazing butterfly life cycle.

  Black Swallowtail
    There's something magical about the way that ugly little caterpillars can transform themselves into free-spirited butterflies.  There are four stages in the butterfly life cycle: egg, larva, chrysalis, and adult.

Monarch caterpillar

Zebra Longwing - the Florida State Butterfly

    Butterfly gardens can vary in size from a few plants in a window box to large areas containing a complex variety of species.  They can be designed to attract one or two species of butterfly or more than a dozen.

  You won't be able to attract butterfly species that are not present naturally in your region, nor can you grow plants that aren't adapted to the your particular soil and climate.  The key to success is an understanding of the life cycle and food preferences of these amazing insects.

Gulf Fritillary
  Adult butterflies have very short life span, from only a few days to a few weeks long in most cases.  Most adults feed solely on nectar produced by flowers.  They sip the nectar through a long hollow tube called a proboscis.

    Adult butterflies will visit a variety of nectar sources.  They are generally attracted to brightly colored, simple flowers that are not to deep and that are large enough to permit easy landings.  Some universal nectar plants include: zinnias, marigolds, bush lantana, salvia, daisies, coneflower, blue porterweed, black-eyed Susan, Mexican sunflower, milkweeds, pentas, thistles, verbena,  butterfly bush, and shrimp plant.  Try to plant a variety of flowers that will bloom over a period of many months to provide a stable nectar source.  A number of weeds and wildflowers are also attractive to butterflies.

Note: some adult butterflies are not attracted to flowers but feed on such things as rotting fruit, manure or mud.

    In order to provide a total environment, it is important to provide larval foods as well.  Unlike adults, the larva or caterpillars are very selective in their diet and will often eat only very specific plants.  By planting the correct larval food plants, you will be able to attract and keep butterflies in your garden.  Some examples of butterflies and preferred larval food plants include: milkweeds - monarchs and queens, citrus - giant swallowtail, passion vine - gulf fritillary, zebra, and Julia, dill and parsley - black swallowtail, thistle - buckeye and painted lady, and purslane - mimic.

White Peacock
    Adults are also attracted to the vicinity of larval food plants in order to lay their eggs.  Some plants are hosts to several different butterflies (e.g.passion vine), but often each species requires its own plant.  Unless you have a lot of  land at your disposal, you may have to be selective in your plantings for specific butterflies.   Remember that these plants will be chewed on if you are successful, so mix larval food plants in with and behind nectar sources so the damage will not be too noticeable and the garden will remain attractive.

    There are a few other things to consider when planning a butterfly garden.   Chose a sunny sheltered location.  Butterflies are solar powered and use the heat of the sun to warm their bodies.  Butterflies are very fragile and do not tolerate a lot of wind.

    Remember not to use any insecticides in and around your garden as butterflies are quite susceptible to these poisons.

   After designing and planting your butterfly garden be patient as it may take some time for these crown jewels of the insect world to find your offering and delight you with their aerial displays and kaleidoscope of colors and patterns.

Butterfly Links

There are many excellent butterfly websites on the web.  Here are links to a few to help your continue your pursuit of this fascinating topic.  Beware - butterfly gardening can be addictive.

Butterfly Gardening in Florida - This informative UF/IFAS site is a must for aspiring butterfly gardeners in Florida.  It provides extensive lists of the butterflies that occur in Florida, as well as their geographical range, habitat preference and season of occurrance, in addition to their adult and larval food preferences and a listing of nectar plants suited to each area.

University of Florida - Florida Butterfly Tutorials. These interesting and educational tutorials will test your butterfly knowledge.  The tutorials provide information on a number of butterflies commonly seen in Florida. The Florida Butterfly tutorials are based on two color sheets developed by the University of Florida Entomology and Nematology Department. The tutorials require Windows and can be downloaded as self-executable files.

The Butterfly Website - This is a must visit site for butterfly lovers.  It has almost anything and everything you could possibly want to know about butterflies.

Butterflies of North America - This great site depicts a map of North America, where you will find the species of butterflies that live in each state. Species, names, photographs,  and other criteria are listed, as well as links to other butterfly Web sites on the Internet. This is a very helpful site for learning about the various species of butterflies in North America, and their particular habitats.

The University of Florida/IFAS Extension Bookstore has recently published two great references for butterfly enthusiasts.  These for sale publications can be ordered from the bookstore on-line catalog.

Your Florida Guide to Butterfly Gardening: A Guide to the Deep South by Jaret C. Daniels offers a thorough look at Florida's most important butterflies and the plants that they prefer for food,  shelter and egg laying.

Butterflies 1 and 2 - Butterflies of the Southeast - by Jaret C. Daniels is a two volume flashcard set with color photographs and information on over 90 species of butterflies found in Florida and the Southeast.

Suite 101 - Butterfly Gardening  - Features a variety of articles and links to more butterfly gardening resources.

Florida  Butterfly Gardening with Native Plants - Native Florida has posted a great website to help you go native with your butterfly garden and attract your favorite flitterers, flutterers, flappers, and gliders to brighten your landscape.  Lots of great photos to compliment the information on butterflies.

The ButterflySite.com - one of the most complete and current butterfly information web pages on the Internet.  This site offers 12 pages packed full of information on all sorts of Butterfly topics.

Wanna-be Butterfly

Please check back soon - more to come.

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