Category Archives: Butterflies

Bringing the outdoors in

When we first moved into this house, I was so excited about the Florida room.  Because it’s so Florida, of course, just a room full of windows to capture our state’s most acclaimed asset: the sunshine.  I thought how great it would be to have plants growing on both sides of the windows—vines outside and potted plants inside.  Just last week, I was thrilled when having left the door open, a gulf fritillary butterfly flew in and circled the sunny room for a good 15 minutes.

I was less thrilled with today’s visitor…

It took me 45 minutes with a push broom as my weapon and knee-high galoshes as my armor to get the damn thing out of the house.

Dream shattered…I no longer want to bring the outdoors in.  Outside, please!

An Instant and Everlasting Butterfly Garden

Remember the Cassia tree I staked out a silent auction for?  It died, but don’t feel sorry for me, it left behind a lineage.  Two months ago, I trimmed back its dead branches to form this au natural bottle tree.See that little squirt of a Cassia tree to the bottom-right?  Today, it’s crowding out the bottles.And this formerly flying seed found a home in an empty pot on the other side of the patio. There’s nothing but bright yellow blossoms and butterflies to look forward to with this tree.  The original came home with a cloudless sulpher caterpillar attached and attracted butterflies within days. Butterfly gardens usually require a combination of plants, and they take time to establish.  A cassia tree is an insta-butterfly garden.  It won’t attract more than the sulphur variety, but with their bright yellow and orange wings, they’re enough to enchant any garden. 

Sleepy Orange

Zebra Butterfly

Great sighting today in my garden–a zebra butterfly.  It was the first zebra I’ve seen in the garden, and it hung around for about an hour.  Amongst my trees and plants, it had a clear preference for the Surinam cherry trees.  Makes sense since their preferred habitat are woodlands and hammocks.

More on the Zebra Longwing

I’m still obsessing over my butterfly experience yesterday.  If my car was running, I’d be walking the woods right now looking for them.  I’m curious to know if we happened upon something special for Red Bug Slough or if the park is a regular hang-out for zebra longwings.  Although I was awed by the sighting, everything I’ve read so far is leading me to the conclusion that the sighting wasn’t very far from ordinary for this species of butterfly.

At night, zebra longwings cluster together on tree branches to stay safe, and according to Peterson First Guide to Butterflies and Moths, “It’s preferred habitat is the understory of dense tropical or subtropical woodlands and hammocks.”  The latter certainly describes that section of Red Bug Slough.  I’ll be back there searching again soon, but if any Sarasota locals have spottings to share, please, please leave a comment and relieve me of this itching curiosity.

Zebra Butterfly Encounter at Red Bug Slough

I had never seen a zebra butterfly in Sarasota until today.  Despite the fact that it’s Florida’s state butterfly, I’ve only seen one in 17-years of living here.  It was at Maclay Gardens in Tallahassee and was only around long enough for one quick picture.

Tonight, walking through Red Bug Slough with John and Luke, we saw a gaggle, a swarm, a herd ??? of zebra butterflies.  It was a more amazing sight than any butterfly garden has ever delivered me.  There actually is a designated butterfly garden near the entrance of the park, but I’ve never seen anything like this there.

That spot is man-made.  It’s a garden next to a parking lot and jungle gym, but that’s not to make it sound sub-par.  It’s a beautiful park, one of many in Sarasota County.  It’s simply the section where nature had to be cleared to accommodate the park.  The butterflies were in a section where nature had to be kept to accommodate the park.  It’s one of two shaded areas and has walking trails throughout an otherwise undisturbed Florida forest.  Houses run along the back of the woods and condominiums along the other two sides, yet somehow nature prevails regardless of the small space.

As we walked along one of the paths, we spotted about a dozen zebras butterflies twirling around in a patch of sun.  I’ve had a few other odd and awesome animal run-ins in my suburban life–a hummingbird looked me in the eyes in Balboa park without pecking them out and my brother and I rode our bikes parallel to a stunned deer for about five strides through Lakewood Ranch–and now the zebra butterflies in Red Bug Slough are adding to that list.

It was as if we stumbled onto a butterfly birthday party.  They were drunk from the sunlight and spinning in circles.  We were under a hammock, so the sun’s rays were compacted into one bright spotlight piercing through the trees.  It was a totally unexpected and welcome moment.  There were butterflies settled on the ground and hanging from the trees, but mostly they were playing in the sun flitting in and out of the spotlight.  I tried to get a video, but it wasn’t capturing the moment; and I didn’t want to miss it myself by fooling with a camera, so I settled for a few still shots.

Multiplying Milkweed

Self-sowing plants fall into the category of either convenient or maddening.  They fill in bare patches or pop up in places they shouldn’t.  Still, they’re always more welcome than weeds and when cooperative can be real money and time savers.

However, if the gardener is not feeling cooperative, self-sowers are sure to be the biggest pain in the ass you and your garden have seen since your honey tried to smoke out a moleCuban Buttercup is a flower not to be planted lightly; it’s a commitment, one forced upon me because I didn’t know any better.  It creeps between the brick pavers overnight, crowds out other plants, and it’s time to stop resisting.  In the spirit of Pema Chodron, I’m embracing the Buttercup and all the other self-sowers growing in my garden beds.

I’m putting away my wallet and cutting my garden workload thanks to Buttercup, Salvia and now Milkweed.  Seed pods burst through the garden last April, and one Milkweed plant gave birth to a litter.  Five new plants popped up this spring.  But location, location, location; a few were a little misguided in planting their roots.And some could have been planted with my own hands; this pot was empty other than the shells and marbles:As opposed to the Buttercup, I’m thrilled with the spread.  Milkweed equals butterflies; monarchs in particular, and my milk carton is in place and ready to house all the impending chrysalises.

Click here for free milkweed seeds.

What the Buddy Walk Gave to My Garden

Tomorrow marks the Manasota BUDS 10th Annual Buddy Walk, a charity and event I’ve supported since their inception.  Like anyone else, I have my reasons to support this particular cause; their names are Ella and Stacy.  Ella was born with Down syndrome, and Stacy is her amazing mom and one of the founders of Manasota BUDS.  They are also my niece and sister.

Family is the root of why I never miss a Buddy Walk, but an ancillary and quite selfish reason has emerged over the past two years – Mariposa, my favorite nursery, donates to the silent auction.  It’s definitely true when people say there’s no selfless deed.  I’ll be circling that silent auction table like a shark tomorrow.

Prior to last year’s Buddy Walk, I had several butterfly plants scattered throughout the garden and even had plenty of butterfly visitors.  But then I won the butterfly garden package from Mariposa.  Now, I have a real butterfly garden; I just didn’t know the difference.  You think you see a lot of butterflies until you start seeing three, four different types daily.

The package included a cassia tree, milkweed, porter weed, button sage, pentas, and passionvine.  The combination is pure magic.  Sulphur butterflies should have been listed along with the plants as an auction item.  There were caterpillars on the tree and butterflies circling within days.

We get pop-ins, like the White Peacock and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, and more than just Sulphurs are regulars.  The Gulf Fritillary is the Norm of our garden right now, constantly sipping at either the porter weed or button sage.

Sleepy Orange on the Cassia Tree

White Peacock Butterfly

Gulf Fritillary on White Button Sage

It’s a small one, but it’s a dream fulfilled.  When I started to really get into gardening, the goal quickly became butterflies.  I got lucky with a few plants; my Mexican sunflowers attracted tons of Swallowtails, and anyone can plant a milkweed to get Monarchs, but it really just depended on the day if I’d see a butterfly or not…not anymore.  Thanks BUDS!

For more information on Manasota BUDS, visit  To register for the Buddy Walk or to make a donation, click here.

The Power of Pentas

It could be the bright red color or the stars filled with nectar, maybe it’s the landing pad that’s created from all those little stars.  Most likely it’s the combination of all three that make Pentas the most sought after flower in my garden.  Butterflies can’t keep their proboscises out of them.

I love them because even in the heat of summer when all the other leaves and petals are curling inside themselves to escape the sun, pentas are still perky.  And any flower that is a friend of a butterfly’s is a friend of mine.  The bees like them too.

Pentas are perennials in Florida but annuals in other parts of the country.  They’ll grow up to 4-feet tall, a fact that eluded me until I planted two in full sun.  They dwarf their shaded counterparts.  Ideal growing conditions for pentas are under full sun in moist, well-drained soil. 

Painted Ladies

I recently spotted an American Painted Lady butterfly for the first time.  It was flitting around the yellow tickseed at King Farm.  Scientifically known as Coreopsis, tickseed was named Florida’s state wildflower in 1991; there are 13 native species of Coreopsis throughout the state.      

The American Painted Lady is different from the Painted Lady butterfly.  As with the American version, I’ve only ever seen one Painted Lady; it was at a butterfly farm in New York.  There were hundreds of Monarchs under the tent and only one Painted Lady:

The two butterflies look very similar but have two distinguishing traits – their orange color and hindwing eye spots.  The orange wings of the Painted Lady are paler than those of the American Painted Lady, and the Painted Lady has four small eye spots on its hindwings.  The American Painted Lady has two large eye spots on its hindwings.   

In Gardening for Florida’s Butterflies, Pamela F. Traas says, “The best way to attract American lady butterflies to your garden is to plant large masses of the same nectar plant” (36).  That could be why I spotted this one at King Farm.  There was a huge patch of Coreopsis in one spot.  Tickseed is in the Aster family.  In addition to providing nectar, plants in the Aster family, along with a few cudweed species, are host plants for American Painted Ladies.   

Traas, Pamela F. Gardening for Florida’s Butterflies. St. Petersburg, FL: Great Outdoors Publishing Company, 1999.

Red Admiral Update

I asked for it, and I got it.  A Red Admiral butterfly visited my garden today.