An organic garden may host so much more life than vegetables or ornamental flowers and shrubs. Growing and nurturing new species of plants can attract a multitude of wildlife…birds, four-legged creatures, amphibians, and insects, including butterflies, all of which can be beneficial to the garden and delights to the gardener. When I planned our garden this spring, I made sure to include larval food to attract the butterflies that are native to north Florida. And today I was amazed at the new garden residents. There were Gulf Frittilaries everywhere! The garden was alive with motion and color and new life, an encouragement during the hot, slow days of August.
Attracting butterflies to your garden is really quite simple. Do a little research at local garden centers and on the web, and discover what species of butterflies (and hummingbirds!) are native to your area. In our case, Gulf Fritillaries, or passion butterflies, are a great example. The larvae, or caterpillars, feast on Passiflora–or passion vine–a beautiful vine with exotic flowers that are gorgeous on a trellis or pergola. Our Passiflora graces the entrance to our gazebo, where we hang out every evening and many mornings. It’s fun to plant larval food near your favorite place in the garden, so that you can readily observe the various stages of the butterflies’ life cycle–from egg, to larva, to pupa, to chrysalis, to butterfly!
Learning about Passiflora, or passion vine, was interesting in itself. This exotic flower is stunning in the garden, and rich in symbolism. The five petals and five sepals of the flower are said to represent ten apostles (the disloyal Judas and Peter are no-shows). The three pistils of the passionflower represent the nails on the cross. The five stamens memorialize the number of wounds that Jesus suffered. The dark spots under the leaves symbolize the silver paid to Judas. When the passionflowers are spent, after a single day (the time Jesus spent on the cross), the petals do not drop from the vine. They enfold the ovary of the fruit, and this symbolizes the hidden wisdom that constitutes the mysteries of the cross, or Jesus enclosed in the tomb. That’s a lot of mystery and symbolism for one flower! Passiflora lives up to it, though.
In addition to its beautiful flowers and deep green leaves, the passionvine produces an exotic fruit that is perfect for making tropical drinks or splashy desserts. But I digress. Back to the butterflies. Here are a few glimpses of these beautiful, magical creatures.
The caterpillars are a little scary looking as they feed on the vine, but their spikes are harmless. They are, however, toxic to most birds, which wisely tend to avoid them.
Here’s a brand new beauty, just emerging from her chrysalis. She rested in the warm sunshine for awhile to dry her silver-tipped new wings, and then she went aloft. Once matured into full-fledged butterflies, the fritillaries just love the nectar from our vibrant Mexican sunflowers, which self-sow by our compost pile. Delightful! The fritillaries were having their own vibrant garden party. Here’s a fleeting glimpse of but a few.
We’re also hosting the beautiful Black Swallowtail butterfly larva. The vibrant, voracious caterpillars enjoy feasting on bronze fennel. The butterflies are glorious, but elusive. I have yet to capture one on camera.
They are greedy little creatures that have devoured the fennel I planted just for them. They amuse our little grandson to no end. They are much more fun to count than blocks!
I hope you plant something delicious for the beautiful, fascinating butterflies. They are good for your plants and will bring added beauty, and a little spirituality, to your garden.