Stop #4: What’s in the Butterfly Garden?
Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata)
You can’t cut, harvest, or remove sea oats because they are essential native plants that are protected in Florida.
They provide food for beach mice, rabbits, and birds.
Sea oats spread by rhizomes. This characteristic is important in stabilizing beaches by binding sand to form dunes.
They are salt and drought tolerant and thrive in the dune community.
Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia filipes)
Look at the back of the garden for clumps of Muhly grass.
It’s a native plant found along highways, dunes, and pine forests.
It is salt and drought tolerant but hates wet feet.
It is pest, deer, and disease resistant so it’s great in a landscape!
The showy cloudlike display of pink to purple inflorescences occur in fall and early winter.
Muhly grass forms a canopy that provides shelter to small animals.
It also provides seeds for small birds to eat.
Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)
The unusual name might have come from the way its flowers hang down like spiders, or perhaps because it was once used to treat spider bites.
The flowers can be eaten fresh on a salad or candied for a sweet treat. Dried, powdered flowers were once used as a snuff for nosebleeds.
The “juice” from the leaves can be used to soothe insect bites in the same way one would use aloe.
The leaves can be made into a tea or tossed into salads or soups.
Spiderwort is a vigorously growing perennial wildflower that grows in many soil types and spreads easily.
Cutting back plants after flowering will promote a second bloom and prevent re-seeding.
The flowers are very attractive to bees.
The flowers are ephemeral, meaning they stay open only one day. But they can bloom year-round.
Fun fact: The stamens in a spiderwort flower can detect radiation. Low-level exposure will turn the bluish filament hairs on the stamen pink!
Firebush (Hamelia patens)
The firebush is a fast-growing native that is happy in a range of soil types.
It has no serious insect or disease problems.
It is somewhat drought tolerant but not salt tolerant.
The bright red-orange tubular flowers appear on and off all year and attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
There will be more flowers if it is planted in full sun.
The black berries, which are edible but not very tasty, attract birds and small mammals.
A syrup derived from the fruit of firebush is used as a remedy for diarrhea in the West Indies.
Powderpuff Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa)
You might have to hunt for this one in the garden, especially if it is not blooming.
It blooms non-stop from spring through fall and can grow in full sun or part shade.
It’s not salt tolerant.
Fun fact: The leaves fold up when you touch them … try it!
This low growing native plant attracts butterflies and is a host plant for butterfly larvae like the Little Sulphur (Eurema lisa) butterfly pictured above.
It is pollinated by bees.
It makes great ground cover because it spreads quickly, can withstand light foot traffic, and can even be mowed. However it does lose its leaves in the coolest months.
Nodules on the roots of the plant, with the help of Rhizobium bacteria, fix nitrogen into the soil.
Coontie Palm (Zamia pumila)
Coontie is an endangered native of the dry uplands of Florida.
Its underground stem allows it to grow back quickly after a fire.
It is a not a palm but a cycad which is a type of gymnosperm.
Cycad fossils date back to before the dinosaurs.
Seeds are food for mockingbirds, blue jays, and other birds but are poisonous to pets and people.
Its underground stems and roots were crushed, thoroughly washed, and prepared as a starchy food by Native Americans and early colonists. Despite this former use, anyone coming in contact with the sticky sap of this plant should wash it off quickly.
The Coontie is critically important to the Eumaeus atala butterfly, which was thought extinct until recently. At the larval stage, the Eumaeus atala caterpillar exclusively eats the leaves of the Coontie. A half-dozen caterpillars can completely strip a Coontie bare, and a large Coontie population is needed to sustain the Eumaeus atala population.
Beach Sunflower/Dune Sunflower (Helianthus debilis)
The dune (or beach) sunflower occurs naturally along the coast but adapts well for inland use.
It is a perennial, butterfly-attracting, Florida native, which typically blooms in summer, but may flower year-round in South Florida.
It is perfect for sunny, hot, dry sites.
Many gardeners like to use it as a colorful and drought-resistant groundcover.
Its bright flowers attract a variety of pollinators, including butterflies, moths, and bees.
Its dense growth provides cover for many small animals.
Seeds are eaten by birds and it reseeds almost year-round.
Fun fact: The flower heads always follow the sun throughout the day.