Jan. 24, 2016
Butterfly Gardening in Bonita Springs
A few days ago a friend of mine posted a photo of her eight year old daughter to Facebook. There was a kid grinning ear to ear with a bright orange butterfly perched on her finger. I immediately interjected that it was a Gulf Fritillary butterfly and that, given the time of day the moment was photographed, it was newly hatched from a chrysalis.
Creating this type of magical moment in your own back yard isn’t much harder than following the directions on the back of a cake mix box. On a scale of one to ten, you can easily get there somewhere around a two on both labor and expense, just to get started. Where you go from there is your own private Idaho.
If you’re considering a venture into butterfly gardening, know that’s it is as easy as planting flowers and trees which will produce nectar so they will have something to eat in conjunction with planting plants they are able to lay their eggs on. The eggs hatch into caterpillars, the caterpillars eat the plants until they are large enough to turn into a chrysalis and then emerge as butterflies. The cycle then repeats.
By far, the easiest butterfly to attract and grow is the common monarch butterfly. The entire process can be achieved with simply one plant, the milkweed or scarlet milkweed depending upon the store or nursery you’re shopping in. The milkweed-monarch system is the Ron Popeil “set it and forget it” type of butterfly gardening. Odds are that when you purchase the plant you will be bringing it home with either caterpillar stowaways or tiny eggs which have already been laid on the leaves. It’s an all in one butterfly starter kit.
There are many other easy to purchase plants and vines which will attract butterflies indigenous to the southwest Florida area. An attractive vine to plant which will attract both the gulf fritillary and the Florida state butterfly, the zebra longwing, is the passaflora. There are a number of passaflora or passion vines available but I recommend purchasing the purple passaflora because it’s has gorgeous, unusual blossoms. The zebra longwing love it and they’re my favorite butterfly because they are gliders and easier to watch and enjoy. They have a longer life span of up to six months. Many butterflies only live a few weeks.
Another fun vine to plant is Dutchman’s pipe vine which will attract the pipevine butterfly and gold rim butterfly which are basically black butterflies. Considering the variety of colorful butterflies in the area most people never notice the black butterflies.
Planting a few cassia trees will bring you the buttery yellow sulfur butterflies. If you have cassia already you probably haven’t even noticed the yellow and green caterpillars because of their perfect camouflage.
Supporting butterflies in your backyard at all times isn’t as difficult as most people imagine, even in a homeowner association. Many of these plants can be displayed in pots and containers for portability and HOA compliance. If you are able to back yard garden know that you can improve the length of time that butterflies hang around by slipping in a few other nectar plant sources such as porter weed, penta, lantana and firebush. The nectar plants will attract a variety of more unusual varieties of hungry butterflies such as skippers, buckeye and peacock butterflies, too.
If you’d like to learn more about back yard butterfly gardening consider touring a few local butterfly gardens such as The Butterfly Estates in Fort Myers or Everglades Wonder Gardens and Bonita Nature Place, both of which in Bonita Springs.
Happy trails and butterfly gardening!