Landscaping with larval host wildflowers and ground covers in Florida is an excellent way to support local ecosystems and promote biodiversity, especially for butterflies, moths, and other pollinators. Many butterflies and moths lay their eggs on specific host plants, and the larvae (caterpillars) feed exclusively on these plants. By incorporating these host plants into your landscape, you can attract and sustain butterfly and moth populations.
Here are some larval host wildflowers and ground covers that are suitable for Florida’s climate:
- Milkweed (Asclepias spp.): Milkweed is the primary host plant for Monarch butterflies. Several species of milkweed are native to Florida, such as the Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and the Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).
- Passionvine (Passiflora spp.): The Gulf Fritillary and Zebra Longwing butterflies lay their eggs on passionvines. Our native Florida species include the Corkystem Passionvine (Passiflora suberosa) and the Maypop Passionvine (Passiflora incarnata).
- Goldenrod (Solidago spp.): Goldenrods are a native keystone species meaning their presence is required for a healthy ecosystem. They are host to over 100 species of moth and butterflies playing a crucial role in Florida. Consider the Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) or the Chapmans Goldenrod (Solidago odora var. chapmanii).
- Senna (Senna spp.): The Cloudless Sulphur and Sleepy Orange butterflies lay their eggs on Senna plants. Floridas native sennas include Partidge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), Privet Cassia (Senna ligustrina), and Bahama Cassia (Cassia bahamensis).
- Blackberry (Rubus sp.): The blackberry is another keystone species hosting almost 130 species of caterpillar. It also doubles as a delicious source of fruit!
- Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.): The aster family is a large group of over 100 species mostly endemic to North America and fill a huge role as a keystone species. They are a host to about 100 species of moth and butterflies and can be found in almost every type of ecosystem. They are especially known for their beautiful flowers.
- Matchweed/Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora): The matchweed is a great groundcover to mix in with other groundcovers and turf or as a stand alone specimen. They are a host to the peacock butterflies which can be seen fluttering around among the matchweed in large numbers in spring.
When incorporating larval host wildflowers into your landscape, consider planting them in sunny areas where butterflies are more active. You can also create butterfly gardens or specific sections in your garden dedicated to these host plants. Adding other nectar-rich flowers will attract adult butterflies, providing both food and breeding grounds for these beautiful insects.
When selecting plants for your Florida landscape, try to prioritize native species as they are more adapted to the local environment and will support a broader range of native wildlife, including butterflies.
Before planting, check with local nurseries, botanic gardens, or extension offices to ensure you choose the most appropriate species for your specific region in Florida. Additionally, avoid using pesticides that may harm butterflies and caterpillars, and aim to create a welcoming and pesticide-free environment for these important pollinators.
Shrubs and grasses: our great connectors at ground level. These types of plants will dominate the square footage of most landscapes as they work their way around trees, structures, paved surfaces, and parameters linking all these different elements like a cohesive picture frame.
Wildlife such as small mammals, birds, and insects rely on shrubs for food, shelter and breeding places while predators hide and hunt within. Butterflies and moths take shelter from rain and adverse weather inside the dense foliage and small birds hop around within looking for berries or insects to feed on. The connection between the butterflies/moths and the birds is closer than we know. They rely on each other, but not in their mature forms.
Caterpillars are the main food source for hatchlings due to their high nutrient content and soft, juicy bodies. They are the perfect consistency for mother birds to raise their young until they are able to feed on tougher foods. Similar to human babies, starting with soft foods before we can move on to hard foods.
So we must start thinking about all parts of the life cycle. If we want butterflies to enjoy our landscapes, we must provide host plants for egg laying and caterpillar food. Similarly, if we want to invite birds to the landscape, we must have caterpillars present as their main food source.
Host shrubs and grasses provide an optimal way to quickly make this happen in high numbers. Whether you are targeting a certain butterfly or just a way to provide as much food for the food web and life cycle as possible, it is fairly easy to incorporate these plants into existing landscapes or new landscapes.
How to do it:
- Analyze Your Landscape
You’ll want to take inventory of the way your landscape performs at different times of year. Some of the more important things to consider are soil moisture, shade, drainage, space and purpose.
- Build Plant Pallet
Based on your analysis, refer to our list of host shrubs and grasses below and separate into categories based on your site conditions (for example: full sun and wet spot)
- Select Plants
Once you have built your possible plant pallet, research the plants further to determine which ones you would like to incorporate into your landscape. Some thoughts might be a target butterfly or moth, one that hosts the most or a keystone species.
- Pick up and install
Now the fun part, find the plants and install them. Now watch them flourish and invite new wildlife to your landscape.
|Large Shrubs (can also be small trees)|
|Sea Grape||25’ tall and wide, moderate to dry, sun|
|Green/Silver Buttonwood||20’ tall and wide, wet to somewhat dry, sun|
|Wild Lime||15’ tall and wide, moderate, sun|
|Wax Myrtle||15’ tall and wide, wet to dry, part to full sun|
|Walter’s Viburnum||12’ tall, moderate to dry, part to full sun|
|Jamaica Caper||12’ tall, slow, moderate to dry, sun|
|Fiddlewood||15’ tall and wide, wet to moderate, shade to sun|
|Firebush||12’ tall and wide, moderate to dry, shade to sun|
|Medium Shrubs |
|Bay Cedar||8’ tall, moderate to very dry, sun|
|Privet Cassia ||8’ tall, wet to very dry, sun|
|Necklacepod||7’ tall, moderate to very dry, sun|
|Buttonbush||6’ tall, moderate to dry, sun|
|Shiny Coffee||6’ tall, wet to moderate, shade to partial shade|
|Fakahatchee Grass||5’ tall, wet to moderate, partial shade to sun|
|Dwarf Fakahatchee Grass||3’ tall, moderate to dry, partial shade to sun|
|Purple Love Grass||2.5’ tall, moderate to dry, sun|
|Scrub Blueberry (Keystone)||3’ tall, moderate to very dry, sun|
|Lead Plant||3’ tall, moderate to very dry, sun|
|Bahama Cassia||5’ tall, moderate to very dry, sun|
|Soft leaf Coffee||5’ tall, wet to moderate, shade to partial shade|
|Dwarf Shiny Coffee||3’ tall, wet to moderate, shade to partial shade|
|Snowberry||5’ tall, moderate to dry, shade to sun|
Benefits of Landscaping with Keystone Native Trees
To put it plainly, incorporating native trees into your landscape is easy! You just need to pick the appropriate tree for the space (right plant, right place… right?). So then why aren’t we planting more trees in our yards? We all know trees are good for the environment, and that deforestation is bad. Still, trees don’t have the best reputation because people are under the impression that they are messy, that high winds will cause tree failure which can damage property, that they bring “pests” to your yard, that they are more expensive to prune, and the list goes on and on. I’d like to bring another perspective to the table and explain a few reasons why trees should be reconsidered, and why our landscapes should actually be focused around more trees.
Trees are not only our largest plants and largest group of larval host plants, but many trees are also keystone species in our Florida ecosystems. What is a keystone species and why is it important? A keystone plant species is a plant that supports the life cycle of many species. Without these keystone species, the life cycles collapse, which collapses the ecosystem. In other words, without these species present, we enter a waste land, void of life and full of struggles. According to Entomologist Dr. Doug Tallemey, keystone species are represented by 14% of plant life which supports 90% of all moth and butterfly species. They also support enough life that 96% of terrestrial birds rely on these species. There is a long list of why birds are important for humans: natural pest control (insects and rodents), disperse native seeds and beneficial fungus, their poop fertilizes soils, pollinate, and provide us humans beauty and happiness. Basically we need them more than they need us.
Like I mentioned earlier, trees can get a bad rap, especially in Florida. A lot of that has to do with the hurricanes we experience. But what most people don’t realize is that trees actually slow hurricane winds. Why have so many recent hurricanes sustained high winds for so long into the interior of our state and sometimes all the way across? One reason is because there is less to slow the wind other than fragmented forests and all of the many increasing buildings popping up statewide. Buildings, however, are nowhere near as efficient at slowing down winds as trees. Trees are our best chance of diminishing hurricane winds, but we need more than just one tree all by itself. We need many trees so they can support each other and keep us safer. We must connect the fragments.
Another big myth about trees is that oak trees specifically should be cut down to keep them from falling on your house during a hurricane or high winds. Of course, if the tree is diseased or declining, it’s best to take it down. But instead of cutting down healthy trees, after everything we just learned in the above paragraph about trees and hurricanes, why don’t we plant MORE? Think of it as creating a wall or moat around your home. One tree by itself isn’t a great defense, similar to any sports team, military, or business. It takes many working together to achieve the best results. A property with groups of trees, in which their canopies overlap, will work together to slow winds and support each other, strengthening their ability to hold up in high wind events.This is good for your property as it reduces the localized wind it will be exposed to which decreases the risk of property damage.
Of course there are MORE great reasons to have trees in Florida other than just to help slow down powerful winds. To name a few:
- SHADE is a big reason. As temperatures rise, we could all use a little more shade where temperatures can be twenty degrees cooler than in the sun. That’s a significant difference!
- Property values increase in neighborhoods with trees! Have you ever noticed that the wealthiest neighborhoods have the most trees? People are more likely to buy a house with trees than without!
- Erosion and flooding is reduced by trees! Trees slow rainfall, hold soil together, and evenly disperse water.
Hopefully by now you’re convinced by at least one of these great reasons to plant more trees in your landscape. What if we considered at least a couple of these reasons and selected a few of our native keystone species that support hundreds, or even thousands of life cycles that we as humans rely on, and plant them around our homes? There are many different sizes of trees that can fit any size landscape, even the less spacious ones. If we construct our environment with these keystone species and build our natural, living walls house by house, we can create a community of trees and an ecosystem bustling with life!
So in conclusion, yes, trees can be messy when they drop their sticks and leaves. If planted too close to infrastructure they can cause some damage. However, the benefits of having trees heavily outweigh these minor issues that are often misconceptions when utilizing a right plant, right place strategy. Our mindset must change in order to protect our state. If we can adopt a “plant more trees” rather than “remove more trees” mindset, we have a better chance of experiencing less environmental hardships in the future. We MUST learn to live with nature and not on it. We must help our trees stand tall with support of more trees and connect our fragmented environments to protect the future of the land we live IN, not ON.
Butterflies and moths are some of the most fascinating creatures on earth. As effective pollinators and being exceptionally efficient at transferring energy up the food chain, their lives have large impacts on the ecosystems around them. Their life cycle is a beautiful and complex process that involves different stages of development. We will explore the life cycle of butterflies and moths, from their egg stage to their adult form.
Egg Stage | The first stage of a butterfly or moth’s life cycle is the egg stage. The female butterfly or moth lays eggs on the underside of leaves, stems of plants, and even on the ground. The eggs are typically small, round, and vary in color depending on the species from the off-white ridged eggs of the Monarch to the green eggs of the White Peacock butterfly. Some species of butterflies and moths lay their eggs in clusters, while others lay them individually. Most caterpillars have a gestation period from 4 days to 2 weeks upon which they will hatch.
Larva Stage | After hatching, the second stage of the life cycle is the larva stage, also known as the caterpillar stage. The caterpillar is the most recognizable stage of the life cycle, as it is when they start eating plants. During this stage, the caterpillar eats almost constantly to fuel its rapid growth, eating about 27,000 times its bodyweight throughout its lifetime! They shed their skin several times to grow bigger and continue to munch away.
Pupa Stage | The third stage of the life cycle is the pupa stage, also known as the chrysalis stage. During this stage, the caterpillar transforms into an adult butterfly or moth. The caterpillar sheds its skin one last time and forms a protective casing around itself, known as a pupa or chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar’s body undergoes a remarkable transformation, breaking down and reforming its tissues to create the adult butterfly or moth.
Adult Stage | The final stage of the life cycle is the adult stage, where the butterfly or moth emerges from its chrysalis. The newly emerged butterfly or moth is often wet and fragile. Although it can move, it takes some time for its wings to dry and harden before it can fly. Once its wings have hardened, the butterfly or moth begins its search for food and a mate to start the cycle again.
The life cycle of butterflies and moths is an interesting process that involves these 4 main stages of development. From egg to adult, each stage is crucial for the butterfly or moth’s survival and continuation of the species. Understanding the life cycle of these insects can help us appreciate their beauty and importance in our ecosystem. And remember that what we plant in our yards can be vitally important for creating habitat for these creatures with ripple effects felt throughout entire ecosystems around us!