Favorite Nectar and Food Sources of Butterflies
Welcome to our butterfly garden where you will commonly find a dozen or so different species of butterflies at any given time. To attract butterflies to your garden and keep them there, you must provide both larval plants (host plants) for caterpillars and nectar sources for the adult butterflies they become. The garden is like a meadow with many flowers for both butterflies and other pollinators. Some favorite nectar and food sources of butterflies are mostly considered weeds by us.
Milkweed (Asclepias) & Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
This group of plants named for their milky sap are an important nectar source and a host plant for butterflies. Milkweed is the only plant material that monarch caterpillars can eat, making it crucial for the survival of the monarch species. The monarch butterfly is known for its annual migration from Canada to Mexico.
Coontie (Zamia pumila) & Atala Butterfly (Eumaeus atala
Much like the relationship between the milkweed and the monarch butterfly, the atala butterfly relies on cycads for its caterpillars. As the only native cycad to North America, the coontie plant was the sole host plant for the atala. Over-harvested as a source of starch, the decline of the coontie or Florida arrowroot as it is also called, led to the belief that the atala butterfly was extinct until a small colony was discovered in 1979 near Miami. With the dedicated work of scientists and local citizens, the atala butterfly population has recovered tremendously.
Passion Flower (Passiflora) & Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia)
The zebra longwing was designated the state butterfly of Florida in 1996. Marked by its black and pale yellow stripes, the wings of this butterfly are long and narrow. The zebra longwing uses a variety of passion flower plants as its larval host. The adults are known for their long lifespan (several months) and roost in groups in the same location each night.
American Senna (Senna hebecarpa) & Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)
Another of the common butterflies gliding from plant to plant, the cloudless sulphur is a smallish light yellow butterfly. The caterpillars can use various sennas and peas as host plants, such as American senna.
Photograph by Tom Hewitt.