Our Butterfly Garden

For time lapse pictures of how the Butterfly Garden evolved click here.

Sadly, I had to sell the house in 2009, so someone else is now enjoying the Butterfly Garden. The one happy note - butterfly attracting plants are usually pretty low maintenance, so it is highly likely the garden is still a haven for caterpillars and butterflies.

9/14/2008 - Leaping Lepidopteras! I've been distracted the past few months with work and have not paid that much attention to the Butterfly Garden. Then this morning I happened to spy something moving on the window overlooking the garden. It was a Gulf Fritillary emerging from its pupa! Intrigued, I went out to the garden to look more closely and found the whole area bursting with activity. There were easily 20 Fritillaries hopping about the Pentas. I looked under the eave of the roof and saw why. It was coated with an astounding number of pupas, like a maternity ward with babies popping out everywhere. For more pictures, click here.


7/14/2008 - To give you an idea on how well the garden has recovered from the January frost, take a look at the picture on the right. Most of the plants are running happily amuck and the butterflies (like the Gulf Fritillary) and the hummingbirds are loving it.

Butterfly garden
Gulf Fritallary

7/1/2008 - I decided to spend an hour in the Garden trying to capture all of the activity with my camera. It may be a Butterfly Garden, but that doesn't seem to stop every flying insect within the neighborhood from stopping by. I've even seen swarms of Lovebugs when the goldenrod is in full bloom.

While I sat patiently waiting to take pictures the hummingbird visited twice, but I wasn't quick enough with the camera to capture it. However, there were plenty of butterflies, bees, dragon flies and wasps that were more than willing to oblige. Click on the image for some pictures.

Butterfly Garden

6/22/2008 - I love those unexpected moments in the garden when something truly beautiful suddenly pops out at you. After a morning of digging up my drainage system and getting hot, dirty and cranky, I happened to glance over at the Butterfly Garden and noticed a blur of green skipping from flower to flower. It was a hummingbird, the first one I'd ever seen in Florida! After running in the house, grabbing the camera and rushing back outside, I was surprised that the female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird was still flitting about the garden. I was able to get several decent pictures (click on the image to see them) before she flew off.

I guess I will have to officially rename the garden to the Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden.


4/18/2008 - As expected, Nature has not disappointed. The Butterfly Garden is recovering nicely from the freeze. One of the Pentas was killed to the ground but is slowly coming back, but the other Penta is more than making up for the loss. The Passionflower is spreading everywhere, above and below the ground, and already has several blooms. The Blue Anise Sage (to the right), after a disappointing summer and fall last year, has sprung forth with some striking flowers. (9/14/08 update) The Sage has proven to be a stellar attractor for hummingbirds and a constant bloomer.

I picked up a violet flowering Cleome (Seniorita Rosalita) from Colorfield Farms at the USF Spring Plant Festival. It just proves I am a glutton for punishment, since the white Cleome I bought last year wilted very quickly after planting. Let's see if this does any better.

Butterfly Garden

01/05/2008 - Three days after the hard freeze blew through it looks like many of the plants in the Butterfly Garden suffered some form of frost damage. None of the plants currently look like the damage was fatal, but it will take at least three or four months before the garden is fully recovered. The Bronze Fennel and Passionflower vine seem unscathed and the Mandevilla, which is sensitive to frost, only survived because it was covered.

12/27/2007 - The Butterfly Garden continues to fill in beautifully. I replanted the Passion Flower (following its recovery from being devoured by Gulf Fritillary caterpillars) in the back of the garden and the vine went from 6" to 5' in a matter of weeks.

One of the fascinating aspects of the Butterfly Garden is the multiple rewards it offers. Putting aside the obvious benefits of beautiful flowers and gorgeous butterflies, I've found that several of the plants in the garden are eager to replicate themselves and save me the time and effort of adding plants to fill in the gaps. The Scarlet Sage is the most interesting. It produces seeds throughout the year and, despite the heavy pine bark mulch, the Sage has managed to spread throughout the garden. At this time of year the Butterfly Weed pods are opening up and sending out their feathery seeds to the four winds. I also discovered several runners popping out of the soil a few feet from the Passionflower, which does cause me a slight level of concern that the vine may become invasive. All of this seems to indicate that the garden has reached a happy state of balance.

Butterfly Garden

10/18/2007 - A few days ago I noticed my first Monarch Butterfly in the garden and wondered if it was due to an annual migration or the recent blooming of the Milkweed and Lantana plants. I posed the question on the Humming Bird and Butterfly Gardening Forum of Dave's Garden. None of the people who responded were able to definitively answer why the Monarch had suddenly appeared, but one contributor pointed me to monarchwatch.org where I found the following fascinating statement:

"In all the world, no butterflies migrate like the Monarchs of North America. They travel much farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to three thousand miles. They are the only butterflies to make such a long, two way migration every year. Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts, often to the exact same trees. Their migration is more the type we expect from birds or whales. However, unlike birds and whales, individuals only make the round-trip once. It is their children's grandchildren that return south the following fall."

If God is in the details, then what better place to start looking for him than in the little Monarch flying about the garden?

By the way, it looks like I am not the first person to have that thought about butterflies. Click here.

10/6/2007 - Now that the Summer is slowly coming to a close and the Butterfly Garden has had a chance to settle in, it's time to take an inventory of what worked and what ... dried up, shriveled and died. Below is the original list of plants that I added to the garden and on the right column is the assessment:

Butterfly Garden
Bronze Fennel (foeniculum vulgare) A posting in centralfloridagarden.blogspot inspired me to try this. The fennel was immensely successful at achieving its primary goal - attracting Black Swallowtail Caterpillars (see below). Within a week after planting I had caterpillars happily munching on the fennel. However, the herb did not do well over time - it ultimately died off in August, likely from over watering and the humid Florida summer. I've ordered some Bronze Fennel seed from Swallowtail Garden Seeds with hopes that I can find a drier site next time.
Butterfly Bush, Black Knight (buddleia davidii) The buddleia is still happily spreading out it's deep blue flowers.
Butterfly Weed (asclepias tuberosa) I thought I had truly lost this one. An unidentified bug infested the plant early on destroying most of the plant. In desperation, I cut the stalks to the ground and the Milkweed recovered nicely.
Cleome Seniorita Rosalita I picked this violet flowering Cleome up at the USF Spring Plant Festival in April, 2008. I am a glutton for punishment, since the white Cleome I bought last year wilted very quickly after planting. Let's see if this does any better.
Cosmos, Mexican Aster (cosmos bipinnatus) The Cosmos did not do well. I started the plants from seed, but when I transferred the six inch plants to the garden, they proceeded to lay down on their sides and produced only a few, sad flowers. They might have thrived if I had supported them with a loose wire cage, but it seems like too much work to try Cosmos again.
Diamond Frost (euphorbia) I'm not in love with this plant. It has put forth a continuous profusion of small white flowers, but it does not appear to be a great butterfly attractor. I'll likely move it to another garden area where it can be used as a low accent plant.
Lantana (lantana camara) After an early burst of flowers, the Lantana went into a long quiet period during the summer. It is only now developing new flowers. (9/14/08 update) Overall, I haven't been that successful with the Lantana. It has not flowered that well and even when in bloom, it does not appear to attract that many butterflies. It is a nice low lying, neat plant for the front of the garden, so I'll keep it, but it is not one of my favorites.
Mexican Giant Hyssop, Acapulco Rose (agastache mexicana) Similar to the Scarlet Sage, the Hyssop is happily self sowing throughout the garden.
Mexican Sunflower (tithonia rotundifolia) The Tithonia produced an abundance of brilliant orange flowers throughout the summer. However, they do not appear to be a great butterfly attractor in my garden. My real mistake was planting them at the front of the garden. As the plants grew to 3' to 4' tall, they blocked out the other plants behind them. In addition, the lower leaves ultimately died off and produced an ugly, decaying mess on the bottom. If I plant Tithonia again, it will be at the back of the garden with some 1' to 2' shrubs in front.
Passionflower (passiflora caerulea) What a wild ride. Trust the experts when they say Passionflower is an excellent host for Gulf Fritillary (see below). The problem is that it was too good a host. The caterpillars (I counted over 20 at one point all happily munching on the leaves) completely consumed the Passion Flower. Luckily, I didn't give up on the vine. I cut it back to 3" and in a month the Passion Flower was pushing forth a profusion of new vines. (9/14/2008 update) - Once established the Passion Flower has been a prolific host for Gulf Fritillaries. It is an aggressive spreader and I have to pluck out new shoots weekly that pop up up to ten feet from the plant.
Pentas, Ruby Glow (pentas lanceolata) The backbone of the garden. It continually produced beautiful, red flowers that attracted butterflies of several varieties . Simple, easy to grow. (9/14/2008 update) The original statement holds true. The Pentas are the primary source for nectar for virtually all of the butterflies and moths that come to the garden.
Scarlet Sage (salvia coccinea) I love simple flowering plants that self sow - the ultimate in lazy gardening.
Spider Flower, Spirit Frost (cleome hassleriana) A complete failure - it lasted about three weeks before shriveling up and dying, likely a victim of too much water and humidity. While I can provide a drier location the next time, I'm not sure this plant is worth the effort, because it succumbed so quickly. That said, it does have a beautiful flower.

09/26/2007 - I've been neglecting the Butterfly Garden for the past month, so last weekend I decided to clean out some of the expired plants and prepare the garden for Fall. Several of the plants, particularly the Butterfly Milkweed and the Lantana, have made a come back now that the temperature is starting to moderate. The butterflies seem to appreciate my efforts. Witness the Palamedes Swallowtail sipping on the flowering Pentas.

Palamedes Swallowtail

08/07/2007 - It looks like the Gulf Fritillary caterpillars I photographed two weeks ago have turned into butterflies.


July 24, 2007 - I can officially confirm that Gulf Fritillary caterpillars love Passion Vines!

As I was looking over the Butterfly Garden this afternoon I noticed a few orange caterpillars on the Passion Flower vine. On closer inspection I found over 20 caterpillars happily munching on the vines and the flower buds. It was fascinating to see so many in one place. Click here for more pictures.

Still being a novice with butterflies, I needed help identifying the variety of caterpillar - it turned out to be a Gulf Fritillary. I found a great little web site to help, it's simply called What's This Caterpillar?


July 14, 2007 - The Butterfly Garden is in the "adolescent" growing stage, some of the plants work and some.... Both of the Spider Flowers, (Spirit Frost cleome hassleriana) died off, so I've crossed them off the list for any further purchases. The Pentas are doing well along with the Diamond Frost. The Tithonia I grew from seed is now sending out brilliant orange blossoms. The Milkweed is struggling, probably due to the herd of orange and black spotted bugs that seem to think it tastes delectable. So far I have not seen many butterflies, but there is hope. Caterpillars seem to be in great profusion and are having a grand time eating up my Cannas and Brugmansia.


June 24, 2007 - Butterfly gardening has got to be, hands down, the coolest form of gardening! I'm hooked. It started back in May when I was reading a post on centralflorida.blogspot.com with a gorgeous picture of a Black Swallowtail Caterpillar munching happily away on some fennel. The blog stated that Swallowtail's especially like Bronze Fennel. Plant it and they will come. A few weeks later I was in the midst of a buying spree at the USF Butterfly, Herbs & Native Plant Fair (see below) when I spotted Bronze Fennel for sale. On an impulse I scooped one up.

A few days ago I was out watering my new butterfly garden when I noticed a small yellow lump on the fennel. I was in shock. There before me was a Black Swallowtail Caterpillar in all its glory! How in the world could a Swallowtail find my meager Bronze Fennel in such a short time? Since I was in a rush, I did not have the opportunity to spend time admiring the caterpillar, much less document the event with a picture. And wouldn't you know it, when I did return to the garden the next day, it had disappeared.

I just assumed the caterpillar had met some horrible fate. Not so. This afternoon, I was looking over my Crinum and there it was - only it was now a larvae!

June 12, 2007 - Our first visitor! To my untrained eye, it looks like a Soldier (Danaus eresimus) . 08/07/2007 Update - "Untrained" is the operative word. Our first visitor was actually a Gulf Fritillary.

June 10, 2007 - Currently, the following plants are in the butterfly garden:


June 9, 2007 - In a random moment my wife looked out the back window of our new house and said, "Why don't we put a butterfly garden out there?" And I stood there wondering why I never thought of that before. It's the perfect location, sunny and sheltered from the wind. It's right outside a hall window, so the plants and butterflies can be enjoyed from the house or out in the yard. And in an indication that the stars and planets were all aligned with planting the butterfly garden, the next weekend was the Butterfly, Herbs & Native Plant Fair at USF.

We were at the Fair when the gates opened for the University of South Florida Botanical Garden members. After scoping out all the vendors, I settled on the Colorfield Farms exhibit area. I was like a kid in a candy shop. After a half hour I had picked out 19 plants. We then brought them back home and, with the help of my daughter, we had them planted that afternoon.


Butterfly Garden Resources