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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Host and the Nectar for Butterflies

There are plenty of nectar plants for butterflies at Hoe and Shovel. And it is thrilling to see so many of them floating about from flower to flower on any given day. We are fortunate enough to have them make their homes here year round due to our mild weather.

This year we are working towards planting more host plants for our flying pretties.

Even though I was duly warned about the invasive tendencies of the passionflower vines it was decided to purchase one anyway.
So this spring a new vine from that family (Passifloraceae), Passiflora incarnata was trellised in the (mostly) sunny SE back corner of the garden. It quickly climbed to the top and is amply rambling over the top.

Just as was hoped the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) butterflies found the leaves right away and began to lay their eggs.

The number of eggs they lay far exceeds the number that actually turn into caterpillars. Something else surely is eating them... but that's how the life chain works. Ants are aggressive predators of small caterpillars and eggs.

This family of vines is also host to the Zebra Heliconian, Julia Heliconian and Variegated Fritillary butterflies. We do see the Zebra Longwing (one of my favorites) and an occasional Julia but no Variegated Fritillaries so far.
The larva is orange with dark green stripes. This young stage caterpillar is not even one quarter of an inch long. Each body segment has a transverse row of long black spines.

Most of the leaves are tattered and munched but we are happy to provide the food the larva needs to grow.

A last stage caterpillar this little fellow is out in the open for the world of birds to see. But would you put those dangerous looking black spines in your bird mouth?
If you click on the photo to enlarge you can almost see him munching.

Adults of the Gulf Fritillary occur all months of the year in our part of Florida and south. During late summer and fall countless numbers of them migrate southward into Florida from throughout the eastern U.S.
We welcome them to find their way here.


  1. Meems you have taken wonderful pictures of this amazing butterfly in stages .. I don't think a scifi illustrator could do a better job on making a tiny monster that transform into such a gorgeous butterfly !
    Your passion flower is stunning : )I am trying to grow and over winter a passion flower in zone 5b here worries about invasiveness .. just being able to get it through our winter will be a miracle ! : )

  2. Meems, you do realise you're letting that scary looking thing spend time with your little grand-kiddies, dont you?
    But what a gorgeous butterfly! Mmmm.... I would let them munch on as many vines as they wanted if they'd just show up all grown up.

  3. I feel the same way you do meems...if the plant provides a food source for caterpillars and an occasional flower for nectar (and of course our enjoyment) it's okay with me that it is a little exuberant in its growth! Passionflower rarelt flowers in my very shady space, but I do get Gulf Fritillary visiting the garden!

    Your photos are fantastic...Those early stages are tiny...great captures! What an amazing looking caterpillar; it is and very dangerous looking with those spines!


  4. I plant parsley and fennel to provide host plants for the black swallowtail and milkweed for the monarch. I didn't know that the passionflower was host for the Gulf Fritillary. I'm not certain that we have them this far north or not, I'll have to check and see.

    Beautiful pictures!

  5. It's hard to believe that "plant lovers" would welcome creatures that chew up their plants.
    And, that we actually plant plants that we hope get chewed up. But it is well worth it to enjoy the beautiful butterflies that visit our gardens.

  6. Joy,
    Thank you so much. You have a point about the spikey monster. A great camouflage for pesky predators hopefully.No, I don't think you'll have a problem with your passionflower being invasive... I DO hope it over-winters for you.

    Yes, there are some wonderful life-lessons in the garden for the little ones. They get to see with their very eyes the varying caterpillars and then the adult butterflies. We are learning (together) about good bugs and bad bugs too. Now some of those look like they are out of a monster movie, too.

    Something close by is hosting your Gulf Fritillaries which is always nice too. Sharing butterflies is something I'm quite fond of... watching them glide back and forth from neighbor to neighbor isn't so bad.

    I have parsley and milkweed, too. The monarchs are here all year long as well and they are big eaters!

    Isn't that true? I think what people don't realize is that it is a trade off... but not a hard one if the host is sited correctly. I wouldn't put a host plant (that I knew was going to be chewed up) in a focal point in the garden. It's a good idea to place them about the garden with that in mind.

  7. You photos are fantastic! Now we know what to look for-although I'm not sure we get that butterfly up here. They have been few and far between so far thos year. I suspect it has to do with the cooler than normal spring and of course all our heavy rains. I like the idea of planting host plants and this year have added fennel and parsley to the butterfly weed.

    Beautiful post!

  8. Such great photos Meems. I can't wait to see what else comes to your butterfly buffet.

  9. This is exactly why I dig these vines out of our cow pastures and bring them up and plant them in the gardens around the houses. The butterflies are beautiful swirling all around them. Of course the flowers are amazing too! Thanks Meems for keeping the public informed!

  10. Fern and Mossery,
    So glad you stopped by for a peek. Thank you.

    Butterflies do like it where the sun shines... you'll probably start seeing them soon. I haven't tried fennel but I do have some very healthy parsley that the swallowtails have found.

    I'm just learning more about the host plants. Slowly I'll acquire even more hopefully.

    Thanks so much for leaving a comment. Yay. How nice you can find them growing in the wild and transplant them. The flowers of passion vine are quite intricate aren't they.

  11. Hello Meems!
    That's the neatest shot of the spiny little guy munching! He does look dangerous :) All wonderful photos. You're so observant..and very clever with your camera. I'm amazed to see the tiny eggs! I need to go out and look more closely.
    Thanks for sharing these tiny miracles.
    Yesterday I saw my first fritillary of the summer. Tiger Swallowtails seem to be the most common..or at least the most noticeable.


Have a blessed day,

September 2010

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