Plant Native Wildflowers to Attract Butterflies!

For gardeners who like easy-care plants, native wildflowers can be the foundation of the garden. They’re easy to grow, never weedy, and they attract and nourish wildlife, including birds, bees, beneficial insects, and butterflies.

Click here to find these seeds as well as other native flowers that attract butterflies.

Whether you like to start flowers from seed or transplants, these easy-growing wildflowers won’t require spraying for pests and diseases or copious amounts of chemical fertilizers to light up your landscape. Plus, they generally are quite tolerant of poor soils and dry conditions, which means you won’t need to amend the soil or be too compulsive about your watering duties.

  1. Native wildflowers are extremely easy to grow. They create easy, low-maintenance color in almost any sunny spot, needing little water once established.
  2. Native wildflowers help our pollinators. Native wildflowers are integral to pollinators’ survival. Planting a wildflower meadow gives bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds a nectar buffet to feed on all season long.
  3. Native wildflowers are good for the environment. Native plants help reduce air pollution sequester or remove, carbon from the air.
  4. Native wildflowers do not require fertilizers and require fewer pesticides than lawns. Pesticides are the number one killer of not only butterflies, but also bees, and moths and other pollinators.
  5. Native wildflowers require less water and help prevent erosion.
    The deep root systems of many native plants increase the soil’s capacity to store water. Native plants can significantly reduce water runoff and, consequently, flooding.
  6. Native wildflowers provide spectacular color and beauty. There’s nothing more awe-inspiring than a wildflower garden or meadow bursting in bloom.
  7. Wildflowers are fun. Whether you’re a new gardener or a seasoned pro, growing, caring for, and cutting wildflowers for summer bouquets is a lot of fun.
A flower bouquet of wildflowers dresses up a table.

Here are resources to help you learn more about native wildflowers by state and region:

USDA Gardening for Pollinators

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center: Plant Lists and Collections

Here are books about using native plants to attract butterflies:

Gardening for Butterflies: How You Can Attract and Protect Beautiful, Beneficial Insects by The Xerces Society. Click here to purchase:
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded by Douglas W. Tallamy Click here to purchase:
ADVICE FROM A WILDFLOWER Open up and show your true colors in this original flower design.

Florida Butterflies and the Plants They Love

Florida is a paradise for butterflies! About 160 butterfly species are native to Florida, while around 200 species migrate through the state. Many butterflies in Florida are unique and cannot be found anywhere else in North America. You can invite many of these butterflies into your yard by including nectar plants for adult butterflies. But it takes more than nectar to entice butterflies to take up residence in your garden.

Larval host plants are the secret to successful butterfly gardening; they are plants required by a caterpillar for growth and development. By planting host plants in your garden, you offer a promise of food for the next generation and will attract more butterflies than you thought possible.

My favorite butterfly and the state butterfly of Florida is the Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius). Female Zebra Longwings lay their eggs on Passion Vines (Passiflora spp.), but their favorite seems to be Corkystem Passionflower (Passiflora suberosa) and Maypop (Passiflora incarnata).

Female Zebra Longwings will lay their eggs in clusters on the leave tips or tendrils of the passion vine.

Passionvines are also used as host plants by a few other species of butterflies that are found in Florida including the Gulf Fritillary, Julia Longwing,  and the Variegated Fritillary .

Purple Passionflower, also known as Maypop, and Corkystem are Florida natives and favored by the Zebra Longwing and Julia Longwing. Blue Passionflower is one of the hardiest of varieties of Passiflora.

Florida also host monarch butterflies. Many monarch chose to head to Florida for the winter and many chose to live year-round in “The Sunshine State.” Monarchs need milkweed to survive and there are many varieties that will grow in the state. The most common milkweed grown in gardens is Tropical milkweed but there are also native varieties that are easy to grow from seed. Monarchs are not the only butterfly to use milkweed as a host plant for their larvae, but Queen butterflies will also lay eggs on milkweed.

Deluxe seed collection of five native Florida milkweed species can be purchased here:

Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) is an herbaceous annual or short-lived native perennial that has yellow flowers that attract pollinators and bloom from late spring to late autumn and year-round in South Florida. The flowers provides pollen for a number of other insects and birds relish the seed pods that follow the flowers. Partridge Pea is the larval host for Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, Gray Hairstreak, Ceraunus Blue, and Little Yellow butterflies.

To purchase Partridge Peas seeds click here:

Carolina Wild Petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis) a native wildflower found in moist to wet hammocks, flatwoods and sandhills, and along roadsides and in disturbed sites. It typically blooms in late spring through late summer/early fall. A source of nectar for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The plant is a host for the several butterfly species including the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia), White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae), and Malachite (Siproeta stelenes) butterfly.

To purchase Carolina Wild Petunia seeds click here:

False Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrical) lacks the stinging hairs of its nettle cousins. It prefers medium-wet and semi-shady sites. Stringy heads of tiny yellow-green flowers form between leaf stems in summer. Moths and butterflies are attracted to this modest plant. It serves as a host plant for the larvae of several butterflies including the Red Admiral, Eastern Comma, and Question Mark butterflies. The larvae of the Flowing-line Bomolocha moth also use it as a host.

To Purchase Smallspike False Nettle seeds click here:

English Plantain (Plantago Lanceolata) also known as Lance Leaf Plantain, Narrow-leaf Plantain and Ribwort Plantain is a perennial herb that has been used since ancient times as a medicinal herb. Songbirds frequent these plants once their flowers have gone to seed. It is the host plant for the Painted Lady and the Common Buckeye butterflies as well as various moths. It can be aggressive so if you are wanting to keep it contained, it grows well in a container.

To purchase English Plantain seeds click here:

Common Rue (Ruta graveolens) is a 2-3 foot tall and wide shrub-like perennial herb with aromatic evergreen fern-like, leaves and with small yellow flowers. It is an especially useful plant for inviting pollinators to the garden, with bees and butterflies being particularly fond of the yellow flowers. It is the host plant to the Eastern Black Swallowtail, and Giant Swallowtail butterflies.

Wash hands or other body parts that contact the plant with soap after handling, as the plant can cause photosensitive dermititis in predisposed individuals.

Wooly Dutchman’s Pipe is a deciduous, woody, climbing, and twining vine. It grows rapidly to 20-30 feet tall. The dense foliage would make them an ideal plant for an arbor or trellis.  It is also the larval host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly and the Gold Rim Swallowtail. (Please be aware exotic Aristolochia species are toxic to Pipevine Swallowtail larvae including Aristolochia gigantea and Aristolochia elegans.)

These are just a few of the butterflies you can attract in your Florida garden by planting these host plants for their developing larvae.

Purchase this deluxe seed collection of seven native Florida species of host and nectar plants to attract butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators:

Seed Sitters

Native plant seeds can be quite easy to propagate, but they have some special needs. Over thousands of years, native plants have evolved to take a rest over the winter months, before sprouting in the spring. This means that for most native seeds, they need winter conditions to propagate. During the winter, seeds undergo a process called cold-moist stratification, which helps prepare the seeds for spring germination.

There are many ways to plant seeds so that they go through this process of cold moist stratification:
  • Plant seeds in fall so that nature provides the winter conditions needed to stratify the seeds and expose them to cold and moist conditions.
  • Winter sowing is another method that allows Mother Nature to cold stratify milkweed seeds. Winter sowing is the process where seeds are sowed outdoors in the winter, typically in milk jug, or any other plastic container with a lid.
  • Plant seeds in spring after cold stratifying seeds in the refrigerator for 4-8 weeks.

I recently discover a very easy way to grow native milkweed and wildflower seeds called Seed Sitters which was created by the David Suzuki Foundation. Seed Sitters is an inexpensive and simple way to grow native milkweeds and other native plants through winter sowing on a balcony on in a backyard.

You can download this infographic from the David Suzuki Foundation website:

Additional Resources:

 Seed Sitters instruction sheet.
Cliffcrest Butterflyway
Wild Seed Project

Winter is the Best Time to Start a Butterfly Garden!

It may seem a bit strange to be writing about starting a butterfly garden in winter, but this is the best time to start those seeds. Really!

If you want your butterfly garden to look like this you need to start now!

If you live in the south where it never freezes sowing milkweed seeds and native perennial seeds in the winter will give you a helpful head start to a beautiful growing season. But even those of you who live where it freezes in the wintertime can start your seeds in the depth of winter by using the winter sow method.

Winter sowing is a method of starting seeds outdoors in winter. This is generally done with seeds that require a period of cold stratification. Click here to learn more about winter sowing.

And if you just want to wait until spring to start seeds, you will still need to prepare those seeds now. Most perennial plant seeds such as native milkweed and native wildflowers require a combination of cold and damp to germinate. Cold stratification, also known as seed stratification, is the process of exposing seeds to cold and moist conditions to encourage germination. In nature, the stratification process takes place when fallen seeds overwinter underground or beneath a layer of snow. But you can accomplish the process yourself by replicating Mother Nature.

Most native milkweed and native perennial seeds require cold stratification to germinate and grow into healthy plants.
How to Stratify Seeds in the Refrigerator

Follow these steps to cold stratify your seeds in the fridge.

1. Place the seeds in a damp medium. Seeds can be sprinkled onto a damp paper towel or can be placed in a moist medium such as peat moss, sand, or vermiculite. Ensure that the medium is moist but not soaking wet.

2. Store the moist seeds in a plastic bag. Once your seeds are wrapped in a damp paper towel or planted in a moist growing medium, place them in a plastic bag. Be sure to label the bag with the name of the seeds and the date.

3. Place the bag in the fridge.  The time you need to keep your seeds in the refrigerator depends on the variety, but 4-6 weeks should be enough time for most seed varieties. After the recommended days of cold moist stratification are done, you can direct sow the seeds outside in the spring after the last frost under a very light amount of soil or you can start them in containers with soil. The simple, quick process of cold stratification helps the seed germinate quicker and grow more readily in your garden bed.

Learn how to plant wildflowers in the spring.

Native Milkweed Seeds That Require Cold Stratification
Click here to find seeds:
Native Flower Seeds That Require Cold Stratification
Click here to find seeds:

How do Butterflies Survive Winter?

Have you ever wondered how butterflies survive the cold snows and bitter winds of winter? Most people are familiar with the amazing, long migration of the Monarch butterflies to Mexico to escape the cold, but many species of butterflies hunker down for the winter in your backyard. “The great majority of butterflies stay where they are. They spend the winter where they spend the summer,” says Jeffrey Glassberg, biologist, author and president of the North American Butterfly Association.

A butterfly sits a top a mound of snow. (‘Field Notes’: Butterfly Winter Survival Strategies)

Among the approximately 700 species of North American butterflies there are three main strategies that have evolved for winter survival. The first involves diapause, either as an egg, a caterpillar, or as a chrysalis. Hibernation in the adult form is the second strategy. The third and final solution is simply to head south.

Most butterflies spend the winter months in a condition called diapause. Diapause is a period of suspended growth or development at a particular stage in the life cycle, to protect butterflies from long periods of inclement weather. Onset of diapause is stimulated by reduced daylight hours. Each species that enters diapause will do so in a different life stage: egg, larva, pupa, or adult.

Many species spend the winter as caterpillars such as the Tawny Emperor, Hackberry Emperor, Viceroy, Red-spotted Purple, and many other species.  They create a nest out of leaves and wait until spring to emerge. These nests are called hibernacula (singular = hibernaculum). When spring arrives with longer days and new leaves on their trees, they emerge and begin eating and growing again.

Viceroy and Red-spotted Purple caterpillars cut a leaf to a specific shape after sewing it to the twig. They then lay a layer of silk over the leaf. As the silk dries, it draws the sides of the leaf into a tight roll. The caterpillars stay inside the leaf roll during the winter.

In the winter, the trees will drop their leaves. Caterpillars that overwinter will instinctively first sew their chosen leaves to the twig. Some species simply sew several leaves together or fold one leaf and stay inside during the winter. Some species, such as Tawny Emperors, will change color from green to brown inside their hibernaculum. Brown caterpillars inside brown leaves would be extremely difficult to see.

Swallowtail butterflies spend the winter as chrysalides. Just before they pupate, the longer nights and cooler temperatures will trigger the caterpillar to become a chrysalis and go into diapause. When it starts to warm up in the spring, the swallowtail will emerge from the chrysalis.

Butterflies who spend the winter in chrysalis find a sheltered place like overhangs or deep shrubbery. The chrysalis, like the adult and caterpillar, stops development over the winter months and contains special chemicals to keep from freezing. When the warmer weather returns and the days lengthen, development resumes in the chrysalis and the adult butterfly emerges in time for fresh blooms on nectar plants.

The chrysalis of the Giant Swallowtail hangs from a tree where it is camouflaged from predators but otherwise exposed to wind, snow and sleet. Relatively safe in its little home, the developing butterfly survives without eating or drinking by lowering its metabolic rate to the bare minimum. To keep from freezing, it makes glycerol, which acts as an antifreeze in its blood.

Perhaps the most vulnerable species are those who spend the winter as eggs, usually laid in late fall in the leaf litter at the base of the host plant. These eggs will hatch in the spring when the host plant has put on new growth.

Eggs are situated safely in the crevasses of the tree bark and branches, at the roots of the tree, or in the leaf litter surrounding it.

Butterflies that remain in cold-winter areas as adults find safe places to rest, like tucked into crevices, under or in between logs or underneath loose bark on trees and then will enter into diapause. The butterflies shut down all their non-essential systems like reproduction and slow their metabolism dramatically. Special chemicals in their bodies work as anti-freeze, and the butterfly remains dormant until warmer weather arrives. These species, particularly the Mourning Cloak, often can be seen flying on the early days of spring, and occasionally even during warm spells in January or February.

These butterflies have special adaptations for survival. They prevent damage to their insides by increasing the level of glycerol, a type of alcohol in their blood, and by converting excess water in their bodies into a gelatin-like substance that won’t freeze.

Some butterflies, such as the Monarch butterfly, migrate to warmer climates or travel to overwintering sites. They cannot survive freezing temperatures. Monarchs that overwinter in Mexico and California during the overwintering period (approx. October-March) are usually in reproductive diapause, which means they stop mating and laying eggs.

Overwintering Monarch cluster in Pacific Grove, California.

Many other species migrate to warmer climates for the winter and continue their normal lifecycle pairing and laying eggs, during the winter. Their offspring migrate back in the spring. The Painted Lady is known for its migratory behavior here in the United States as well as its epic migration between Europe and Africa.

You can help a butterfly survive winter, no matter how they do it, with a few simple actions:

Leave the leaves! Leaf litter helps replenish soil nutrients and provides overwintering habitat for a number of beneficial invertebrates. If you can’t leave leaves throughout the yard, consider creating a leaf pile or adding leaves to compost.
Ditch the fall garden cleanup. Besides leaving leaves, consider leaving standing flower and grass stalks in your garden. Sometimes, these stalks harbor chrysalises or pupal cases from local insects like native bees. These areas also provide winter shelter and food for birds. Remove plants in the spring. Generally, by the time the grass needs its first cut in the spring, the pollinators have emerged.
Sow seeds and plan out next year’s garden. Butterflies not only need nectar plants to feed on as adults, but they need host plants for their young caterpillars to feed on as well. Winter is the best time to start planning and preparing your garden for spring and summer butterflies.