Zebra longwing butterflies that is. (Heliconius charithonia) This year we’ve had a huge jump in population, so our property is aflutter with all their striped glory. They don’t have deep wing beats like a lot of floppy butterflies–their wings hardly move as they fly. They are skittish compared to some other butterflies, but they are mesmerizing.
This is Florida’s state butterfly and deservedly so, there are more sitings in this state than others. The larval food is the passion vine (Pasiflora spp), but they like it best when it’s grown in the shade.
I’ve been trying for years to create a welcoming habitat for the zebra longwings, so finally we’ve reached the point where this could happen and now we’re teeming with zebras.
On their Team
To attract the butterflies and moths, the most important ingredient is the plants that the caterpillars can eat. The female butterfly tastes the plants with her feet and many will lay their eggs on only one type of plant. Many people know that monarchs need milkweed (Asclepias spp), but zebras need passion vine. If you don’t have the larval food, your butterfly population will be limited at best.
As butterfly gardeners, we cheer when we see our plants being eaten by caterpillars. I have planted maypop, a Florida native passion vine (Passiflora incarnata). It has done well and when it sends up sprouts in odd places, I transplant them to other, more appropriate sites in the landscape.
See my post here a while back: Maypop, a Native Butterfly and Bee Magnet.
When most people think of a butterfly garden, they think of the beautiful nectar plants that are necessary for the adults, and they are important. But without the larval needs being met, your success as a butterfly gardener will always be limited.
The nectar sources should be varied. Your butterfly garden collection should include compound flower heads as in the daisy family and tubular flowers as in the mint family. There are so many choices, but make sure you don’t include invasive plants to your region even if the butterflies like them. Here in Florida, many people use lantana in butterfly gardens, but the most widely planted (and for sale) is the Lantana camera, which is on the invasive plant list here. I do have some lantana, but it’s sterile and never develops berries. The native species would be good, but it’s hard to find and is not an easy plant to grow.
One of my most popular nectar plants right now is the snow squarestem (Melanthera nivea), which is featured in the following gallery of visitors. See my post here a while back Snow Squarestem; A bee and butterfly magnet. In this post I mention the problem of its rangy or sloppy habits at the end of the season when it gets too tall for its stems. This year, I trimmed the stems back at the edges of the gardens and tapered up to the stems growing in the middle of the plant. So far this strategy is working to keep it neat. But with all the beautiful buzzing and busyness around the blooms, who really cares if a stem droops?
In a couple of weeks, my dotted horsemint will also add to the mix–it’s just beginning to bloom. See another post on this nectar plant: An Inch-by-Inch Decoration Feat. And then, later in the fall, the goldenrods and asters will support the adults.
So here’s a gallery of some of the visitors seen in the last week around the snow squarestem plants.
Are you a team member for the butterflies?
You’ll know when you’re a full-fledged team member when your yard is teeming with butterflies and other pollinators.
For more information including larval and nectar food sources on zebra longwings and other butterflies, see the Butterflies and Moths website.
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