By B.C. Manion
When Jan and Jeff Means want a little entertainment, they just gaze out their back window and watch butterflies flutter by.
The Lutz couple enjoys nature’s splendor on a regular basis – as their yard on Newberger Road is an oasis for butterflies of all shapes, sizes and colors.
Sometimes the couple will see hundreds of the winged creatures at the same time.
The couple’s gardening venture started small, as these things often do.
“There was a little crepe myrtle tree out in the middle of the backyard, and I dug around that, maybe 5 or 6 feet around it and planted some lantana. The butterflies liked that,” Jan Means said.
As the couple enjoyed the butterflies, they developed an interest in how they could create a sanctuary that would attract them and make them want to stay.
“We started learning more about it when we joined the Native Plant Society,” Jeff said.
“We went to native plant conferences and we went some of the Marc and Marie Minno’s workshops and took nature walks with them,” Jan said.
“He (Marc Minno) writes probably the best books on Florida butterflies. Period,” Jeff said.
The Lutz couple began hitting plant sales and stocking up on varieties known to be good nectar plants for butterflies.
“I was the one who started trying to figure out all of the host plants,” Jeff said. “Most butterflies host on one plant and nectar on another.”
The couple has host plants for every major butterfly that’s found in the area, Jeff said.
“You don’t have a butterfly garden, you have a butterfly yard,” Jeff said.
“If you don’t have the yard, you don’t keep them.”
Butterfly lovers who want to not only attract butterflies, but to keep them in their yards need to pay attention to a butterfly’s needs, Jeff said.
“They’ve got to have a place to lay eggs,” Jeff said. Host plants are what the caterpillars eat, he said. “Butterflies will lay their eggs on those.”
“They have to have a place to hide the chrysalis,” Jan said. “They need a nectar source. And, they need a place to bask.”
“They also need minerals,” Jeff said.
One way to provide minerals is to fill a shallow bowl with some gravel, because the gravel has minerals in it, Jan said.
Besides influencing what they choose to plant in their garden, the butterflies also affect other gardening practices, Jan said.
For one thing, Jan doesn’t use any insecticide in her garden. It could harm the butterflies.
She doesn’t pull as many weeds as she once did, either.
Some plants that look like noxious weeds are excellent host plants for butterflies, Jan explained.
“We found that pellitory is a host plant for that gorgeous red admiral (butterfly) we had hanging around here early in the spring,” Jan said. “It’s a weed that I’d been taking out with a vengeance.”
“I kind of wait to see and let nature take its course and watch to see what comes up in the butterfly garden, and then I start plugging in things. I want to let everything that lives there have a chance to come back out,’ Jan added.
For those who are interested in attracting butterflies, Jan said she would recommend parsley, fennel or dill, some kind of passion vine, milkweed and any kind of citrus.
Good nectar plants include penta, butterfly weed, milkweed, cassia, vibernums and coral honeysuckle.
A good rule of thumb, Jeff said, is “if you want to have butterflies, concentrate on the native plants that are always in the area where you live.”
Of the wide range of winged creatures that flutter in the couple’s yard, some of the most common are the Gulf Fritellary, Monarch, Black Swallowtail, Tiger and Queen, the couple said.
Jan’s favorite butterfly is the Zebra Swallowtail.
Jeff said it’s hard to choose just one.
“I saw the red-spotted purple,” he said, with obvious enthusiasm. “When you see it, you believe you’re in South America. It’s so brilliant.”
/Good Butterfly Books
“Florida Butterfly Gardening,” by Marc C. Minno and Maria Minno (University Press of Florida)
“Butterflies through Binoculars” by Jeffrey Glassberg, Marc C. Minno and John V. Calhoun (Oxford University Press)
“Florida’s Fabulous Butterflies & Moths,” by Thomas C. Emmel (World Publications)
“Florida Butterfly Caterpillars and Their Host Plants,” by Marc C. Minno, Jerry F. Butler and Donald F. Hall (University Press of Florida)
“Gardening for Florida’s Butterflies,” by Pamela Traas (Great Outdoors Publishing Co.)
Butterflies Through Binoculars: Florida by Jeffrey Glassberg, Marc C. Minno and John V. Calhoun, Oxford University Press, 198 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10016.
Florida Butterfly Gardening: A Complete Guide to Attracting, Identifying, and Enjoying Butterflies of the Lower South by Marc C. Minno, Maria Minno, Diane Pierce (Illustrator) University Press of Florida, 15 NW 15th Street, Gainesville, FL 32603, (352) 392-1351.
“Florida’s Fabulous Butterflies & Moths” by Thomas C. Emmel, Brian Kenney (editor) World Publications
www.naba.org (North American Butterfly Association)
www.fnps.org (Florida Native Plant Society, look under planting natives)
www.ffgc.org (Florida Federation of Garden Clubs)