All About Butterflies


All text and pictures below come from Georgia Tasker's Book, Butterfly Gardening In South Florida.  Purchase the book online or at The Shop at Fairchild.



What is a butterfly garden?

A butterfly garden is simply a gentle place with the kinds of plants butterflies love. It can be a park, a natural area or a home garden. It can even be plants grown in containers on your patio. Large or small, a butterfly garden is a place of wonder where you can watch the graceful and ephemeral dances of butterflies. 

monarch on milkweed


Planning a butterfly garden

Take a few moments to envision what your butterfly garden should contain. When doing so, think about what butterflies do during the day: search for food, shelter, water and mates. You will need to create a garden that meets these needs.

  • Flowers containing nectar attract butterflies that drink the sweet, rich liquid for energy. Many plants that produce flowers grow best in full sun. So a sunny spot in your garden is the first condition for a butterfly garden.
  • Butterflies awaken in the morning and go to a sunny spot to warm themselves for the day’s work. These wonderful insects may not appear on rainy or overcast days and have a good deal of trouble flying in windy weather. So a second condition for a butterfly garden is an area offering protection from wind. You can create such an area by planting a perimeter of shrubs or small trees around your sunny spot on the north side to keep their shadows from affecting lower-growing flowers.
  • Butterflies are attracted to compound flowers, that is, many small flowers that appear as one, such as asters, pentas and ixoras. Compound flowers allow butterflies to drink from many individual flowers in one stop, reducing the work required to find their food.
  • Butterflies like to rest and drink during the day as well, so shrubs and ornamental grasses can give them a shady spot to rest, while a saucer of wet sand may provide them with a place to drink.
  • Butterflies are meant to mate and produce offspring during their short lifespan, so you need to provide food for their offspring. Butterflies are very choosy about where they lay their eggs, so to keep butterflies in your yard, you need a nursery – or the plants on which butterflies will lay eggs. These are called larval food plants. In other words, plants that caterpillars will eat as they grow from tiny to the stage when they pupate or become a chrysalis.

Because butterflies are picky about their larval food plants, you must find the plants they will utilize in order to keep them in your garden. For example, Gulf Fritillaries use passion vines. So do Zebra Heliconian (Zebra Longwing) butterflies. Monarch butterflies select milkweeds, while atala butterflies choose the little cycad called coontie.

So remember:

1. Observe and identify butterflies in your neighborhood.

2. Discover the nectar and larval food plants they need to thrive.

3.  Plant nectar-producing flowering plants to bring butterflies to your yard.

4. Plant larval food plants to keep them there. 


Lifecycle of a butterfly

“Observing butterfly and caterpillar behavior can provide hours of discovery and amazement,’’ says Linda Evans, honorary curator of Fairchild’s Lisa D. Anness Butterfly Garden. 

Among the most astounding of nature’s many incredible feats is the transformation of a caterpillar into the beautiful insect we call a butterfly. This transformation, called complete metamorphosis, occurs in stages, with the caterpillar molting several times to emerge as an adult butterfly. During the last stage of metamorphosis, inside a protective covering called a chrysalis, a chewing mouth becomes a drinking tube; a set of short legs becomes five-segmented long legs; and a caterpillar grows wings covered with scales. To grow a butterfly garden is to become enchanted and entranced by this marvelous event.

Butterfly Parts

parts of a butterfly

Caterpillar Parts