Tiger SwallowAs you create your backyard habitat, don't overlook the nectar-seekers - hummingbirds and butterflies. They are valuable plant pollinators, and delightful to observe as well.

It's easy to attract butterflies to your garden by providing their favorite nectar-producing flowers. But to persuade them to stay all summer, you must also grow those plants that supply food for the insects' larval stage. Female butterflies lay their eggs only on certain plants that will nourish the young caterpillars (larvae) after they hatch. Some caterpillars feed on just one kind of plant, while others may dine on a broad range of related species. Zebra swallowtail larvae, for example, feed only on pawpaw plants, while tiger swallowtails will consume leaves from many broadleaf shrubs and trees, especially willows and tulip poplars.

Here are some ways to create a backyard butterfly habitat:

  • Let a few sunny areas in your yard go wild. Grasses and wildflowers native to your region of Florida are the best and most permanent butterfly draws. Over time, introduce seeds of other native butterfly-attracting herbs to these natural food patches. Try to introduce vegetation that has staggered blooming seasons so you can offer a steady progression of flowers throughout the warm months.
  • Mow your meadow areas only at the end of the butterfly season (November in most parts of Florida) to avoid harming larvae.
  • As you design your landscape plan, select some of your permanent trees, shrubs and vines specifically for their butterfly food value. This can be as simple as placing a few important shrubs in a sunny spot you can see from your porch or window. Reference our fact sheet on butterfly gardening, which lists the larval and nectar food plants for each common Florida butterfly.
  • Provide at least one puddle area for your butterflies, because these insects cannot drink from open water. Wet sand, earth or mud are the best butterfly watering holes.

butteringfly wateringstationButterflies prefer to drink water by lapping moisture from sand, soil or rock surfaces. You can make a watering station for butterflies by adding sand to the saucer of a bird bath to reduce its depth. Add a rock to the center that can act as a resting spot. Wet the sand so that it is thoroughly moist but not submerged. A large saucer designed to fit beneath clay flower pots will do the same job handsomely.

  • Enhance your butterfly management effort with personal observations. Learn which species already occur in your area and identify the plants they are visiting. Go a step further and study local butterflies and their preferred plants in more natural field and forest settings. Many field guides on butterflies and local flora can help you in your identification (see For Further Information).
  • Most important of all, refrain from using insecticides and herbicides in your habitat. Explain the harmful effects of these chemicals to your neighbors as well.
  • For more information, reference our fact sheet on butterfly gardening or our Attracting Butterflies for the Summer web page.


FWC Facts:
A 2011 survey showed that 49 percent of residents and 47 percent of tourists participate in wildlife-viewing trips in Florida.

Learn More at AskFWC