Musings of a South Florida Gardener by Carol Eannace

Each morning the garden calls me to see what’s new.  It’s always something . .

Cardinal refreshing himself in the fountain.

 

 

One of the things I value most about gardens are that they are ever changing, allowing us all the chance to learn, evolve in our preferences, make mistakes and enjoy a ring-side seat to nature.  This courtyard has had so many evolutions over the years.  At one time the fountain was flowing and it was filled with fish.  And then the fish grew so that they were discovered and eaten by the local cats and raccoons.  Next we grew water lettuce in each of the bowls and the frogs love that!

 

For the past few years, I’ve removed the water lettuce from the top two bowls to fill them with water for our bird friends.  The frogs still inhabit the bottom bowl and they very efficiently eat any mosquito larvae.  Water lettuce is classified as an invasive, but I appreciate it in this application because it’s contained and I love the velvety leaves.  My journey as a gardener has been one of discovery through experience and education.  The unique plants I collected many years ago have given way to a more urgent need to grow natives in an effort to help restore the environment and provide habitat for wildlife.  

This trellis in the same courtyard has hosted maypop, corky stem passionvine, coral honeysuckle and now has been taken over by the blue pea vine.  I miss all the zebra longwings and the gulf frittilaries that laid their eggs on both of the passionvines, but blue pea vine attracts birds, bees and skippers and the flowers are quite lovely.

 

I started planting corky stem passionvines along both perimeter fence lines for the zebras and gulfs a few years ago, hoping that planting among established vines and trees would give the caterpillars a better chance at survival, since they are more hidden than on this trellis.  To some degree it has succeeded, but it’s much harder to watch the growth of the caterpillars and their emergence from their chrysalis.

Julia butterfly
Gulf fritillary butterfly with another fritillary attached.

One of my passions for many years has been growing orchids.  In South Florida we are fortunate to enjoy such a long growing season.  We are accustomed to seeing flowers bloom throughout the year.  This is very rarely the case with orchids, except for a couple easy to grow varieties, here an oncidium   – possibly Oncidium Ensatum, but I’m not positive.  Although most orchids are epiphytic, this species can also ground in the ground.

This is the other constantly blooming orchid, a Brassavola Nodosa, commonly called Lady of the Night for the delicious scent it releases at sunset to attract the moth that pollinates it. 

My orchid house provides habitat for lots of wildlife.  I wish I had a photo of the hummingbirds that stake out their territory each day during the winter, but they are way too fast for my camera!  Quite often the birds delight in chewing off the orchid roots because it seems to make the perfect nesting material.  And this little frog is one of the many calling the orchid house home.

 

Dendrobium Lindleyi is one of my favorite orchids.  It blooms like this once a year for about a month.

Below is an orchid commonly called a cowhorn, Cyrtopodium punctatum.  It is native to Florida and some of Latin America, but endangered here now.  It’s quite easy to grow once you have the pseudobulb and blooms once a year for about a month in the spring.  Bees love it!

Vanilla orchids grow easily in South Florida.  The flowers appear for just a few hours one day only.  Unfortunately we do not have the bee here that pollinates the orchid, so growers are self-pollinating.  We had so many vanilla flowers last year that I tried to self-pollinate, with very little success.  There was only one vanilla bean at the end of the season!  One more reason to concentrate efforts on growing native plants!

Giant swallowtails are frequent visitors to our key lime tree and wild lime trees.  Unfortunately, the birds are not often fooled by the “bird poop” caterpillar defense.  Hopefully the female lays enough eggs to increase the odds for this beautiful butterfly.

These soft cane dendrobiums are happily growing on a frangipani tree.  They have the most delicious scent each morning.  Unfortunately, they also appeal to the iguanas, who think they make a perfect breakfast!

Coonties grow easily in this section of the garden, attracting the gorgeous little atalas.  I love this ancient cycad for its hardiness and ability to survive in almost any condition.

I’ve been growing zinnias for a while now, just for the monarchs.  They especially love the orange flowers.  As our climate continues to change more each year, all of nature needs our help and protection.  Anything we can do to utilize more native plants, especially those that feed pollinators and birds or provide habit for wildlife is valuable.  And the benefit for us is a journey rich in appreciation for what surrounds us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lina’s Garden

This is the second in a series of Wildlife Garden of the Month posts.  We want to highlight the many ways in which you can transform your garden into a biodiverse sanctuary for humans and wildlife and inspire you to take action.

 

Lina’s Garden

by Lina Castaneda

Sustainability and Activism

minima.lina

The beauty of a Gulf fritillary butterfly is captivating!

 

Florida has a unique climate and there is so much to learn, believe me, it begs to be acknowledged. Not just in fauna and flora but in land and the Natives that steward it, the Tequestas, Seminole, Calusas, Miamis and Miccosukee. It also begs to be inclusive with all the people that came after and it needs to be accessible to all to appreciate. I want to acknowledge first and foremost, that this piece of land was the land of the Tequesta tribe, and the story of our garden in a way is to pay respects to them and mitigate the effects of poorly used land at all scales.

 

There is a funny thing to believing in sustainability that seeps through every part of your life, from food to materials you wear on your body, to what’s inside and outside of your home. I was very aware of this for years, before and after having kids, and living in small apartments. I was conscious about waste and had a growing green thumb. I started with my tiny compost bins and tiny balcony veggie garden with tomatoes, roses, peppers and herbs. And then it finally happened, we bought our home in Little Haiti with our first kid. After a couple of years living in this house I decided that decorative grass in my front yard was the most pointless perk of owning a home. The time I spent cutting grass on the weekends is wasted because no one, and nothing in this outdoor environment benefited from it. Absolutely no bees, no butterflies or birds could possibly benefit from this- and I gained nothing but a heck of a lot of grass allergies.

 

Our lawn covered in high maintenance grass.

 

My front lawn started with a consultation from a man in native gardening that didn’t have much time to explain all my questions about what he was bringing to my yard. Looking back it couldn’t have been a better scenario because it caused me to do the research myself and learn on my own. My desire to learn about plants was amplified from container balcony plants to something short of a tiny forest. So here it began and the grass had to go. I had no patience in dealing with the removal or sheeting of the front yard so we agreed to smother it with about 6”-8” of height of mulch. There were no plants to remove except for a non-native clusia that similarly to grass, contributed absolutely nothing to its surroundings. So without much to consider, the entire front yard was covered (about 1600 sqft) with mulch. The kind of mulch we used was not the commercial one though, this one had not been sprayed with chemicals like most bags you’d find in Home Depot and the like. We got it from a local arborist that had enough chipped wood from his jobs and the consultant had it delivered to us. Now I learned that the arborists do it for free.

 

The very first of many truck-loads of chemical free mulch to cover. This one gave us 6”-8” of initial height of mulch on the front lawn.
The first few small to medium sized plants installed. This view lasted for almost a year while the plants established.

 

 

End of first year of plants installed.  Some grass attempted to grow through but was easily pulled.

 

 

Then the planting started, we got the recommended plants from the consultant in addition to some that I had found in native nurseries like Silent Nursery and Veber’s Jungle Garden. Midsize plants were put in their respective places considering height vs. position of the sun to create more shade in some places than others. Areas of desired privacy were also considered and the denser plants were placed there. There’s so much I can say in detail about each of these plants if you ask me in person I can yap about it endlessly. I will mention however, our starring plant: powderpuff, or sunshine mimosa, a creeper that was meant to cover a good 80% of the yard replacing grass, staying low, resistant to pedestrians and most importantly, never needing to be cut. It grew marvelously in direct sun and once established it grows incessantly. The overall growth of the garden until this day has taken 2 years and for some people it seems like an unbearable sight and wait time. There was only mulch and tiny plants for the majority of the first year but the second year was incredibly rewarding, everything took off and bloomed. It was recommended to us to get even bigger plants at the beginning to skip the wait time barren visual, but this incremented our budget to 5x the cost. I didn’t mind the time it took to grow because I got to know every single plant in its small stage to full growth. Plus the garden was meant to go against all conventional, out of the box and cookie-cutter aspects of what a lawn is these days. Extra time to grow didn’t hurt anything.

 

We repurposed rocks and mixed concrete slabs from an uneven backyard patio removal.

 

My children spend a lot of time discovering new things in my garden.

 

We see such amazing sights as this Long-tailed skipper butterfly, which is taking a rest after laying eggs on the butterfly pea. Their caterpillars are particularly interesting to watch.
The more we planted, the ,more dragonflies we saw zipping around the garden.

 

Mimosa creeper closes its leaves as you touch or step on them. It is an incredibly resilient groundcover.

 

Spanish needle is a wonderful native nectar plant, attracting a variety of bee and butterfly species.  Check out this honeybee’s pollen-filled saddle bags!

 

The goal of the garden was to make it as self sustainable and purposeful for the local fauna. There was to be no cutting, no irrigation, no fertilizing and no manicuring or leaf blowing of any kind. And so, it has lived to that purpose until this day! Perhaps the only thing we maintain is adding truck loads of mulch (which we get for free) every 3 to 6 months. We joined the program of Connect to Protect and hold 5 native plants from them as well as 6 Florida-friendly trees from the 1Million Trees Project in order to increase canopy in areas like where we live. An additional aspect to the front garden was always a given to us, making it a wonderful space for our kids to explore. It did not become so necessary like it did in 2020’s pandemic. With so much time staying in, we explored every nook and cranny of this yard. There were so many new bugs, more visiting birds, new growth and more flowers in plants, interesting textures and we started to explore our options beyond having a pollinator-friendly garden.

 

Including my kids and giving them responsibility to care for the garden. My son here helps me build the herb spiral.

 

I recently got certified in Permaculture with Earth Activist Training and I learned so much about soil, plant biodiversity, water harvesting, environmental impacts, social justice and more. All of which I wanted to apply to my already existing self-sustainable garden. Could I include food? The kids loved the small vegetable garden bed in the backyard but what if we could have more and include more different vegetables and even share? With more time outside I poked for spaces and found areas where a little key lime little could grow, some tomatoes could hangout near the firecracker bush and different kale varieties could snuggle in between the milkweed. And it worked! We got excited and decided to make an additional space for the kids to plant some herbs. Behold, the most permaculture thing anyone can do; an herb spiral. Here we have an eternal and massive sissoo spinach bush growing, rosemary, cilantro, parsley and different basil varieties. A few other things we incremented was the amount of rain barrels around the perimeter of the house. In one single day of steady heavy showers we collect about 250 gallons (more if we had more barrels!) of non-chlorinated water that our raised vegetable beds love. We also collect bags of leaves that people put out on their curbside to add to our compost or backyard and we also practice “chop-and drop” when a plant (specially palm trees) drop leaves or become hazardous and needs a chop, we simply cut and leave the cuttings or leaves on the ground or under a tree. “Produce No Waste” as Permaculture principle No.6 reminds us.

 

Our garden faces south allowing us to have raised beds that grow during our winter season.

 

Kale and broccoli in between the gaillardia by the entrance.

 

Key lime, tomatoes and basil in between Pineland croton and Firebush.

 

With this knowledge in my belt I have slowly begun to help our neighbors with mulch and sharing of plant cuttings from our garden.  I have hosted online talks about composting with worms, finding pollinator friendly plants and offered drop-off compost options for the community near and far. Very recently I have started a forest school coop with a few moms and their kids in order to share the space and bounty. With lots of plans crushed during this pandemic I am focusing on learning more in detail about our local ecosystems and like I mentioned at the beginning with the land acknowledgement, there is so much we ought to learn and preserve. Even if it’s water! Because this land was never really ours, it is not ours to keep but we can make it right and better for our children.  It has been nothing short of a heaven for our family to experience, learn and grow with our garden and I highly recommend anyone desiring to break out of the conventional lawn mold to do it! 

 

Our entrance holds a large Coral honeysuckle vine that brings us a wild show of butterflies and hummingbirds.

 

The morning hummingbird spectacle at the Coral honeysuckle vine.  Imagine waking up to this sight!

 

 

 

 

The Transformation of a Garden and a Gardener: the Story of Bound by Beauty

By Mary Benton, Co-Founder of Bound by Beauty

This is the first in a series of Wildlife Garden of the Month posts.  We want to highlight the many ways in which you can transform your garden into a biodiverse sanctuary for humans and wildlife and inspire you to take action.

 

It all began when I encountered a jade jewel with a gold crown in my garden. It stopped me in my tracks, literally took my breath away, and filled me with awe and wonder. What was this magical thing?  Little did I know that I had just put a foot on a very slippery slope that has led to the complete transformation of both my garden and me and to the creation of Bound by Beauty.

We had recently put down roots for the first time in several decades of moving all around the world.  The garden I inherited was filled with what I would come to learn were travelers palms and invasive ferns.  Problem was, I had no idea what to replace them with.  I was paralyzed with indecision, and completely clueless as to what plants do well in South Florida’s challenging environment, or even what kind of garden I wanted.

And then disaster struck, as the majority of our 90-year-old cast iron waste pipes collapsed and had to be replaced, so the money we had set aside for landscaping went down the drain.

But those months of dithering and indecision and lack of progress paid off when my very patient landscaper brought me some milkweed, unbidden but very welcome with its cheerful yellow flowers.  I was delighted when caterpillars appeared seemingly out of nowhere and started devouring the leaves.  But I was completely unprepared for the magic that the process of metamorphosis would bring.  The breathtaking encounter with the chrysalis convinced me then and there to turn my garden over to butterflies.  That turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.

It was as if I had found a gate into a magical realm, where beauty reigned and joy and awe and wonder prevailed.  I never knew a garden had the power to evoke such emotions.

I started with more milkweed planted next to our deck, along with a non-native firebush and some pentas — both widely available and wonderful nectar plants.  These plants attracted so many Monarchs that I could hardly keep up with demand. 

Buying Giant milkweed slowed the hungry caterpillars down a bit and took the pressure off of my other milkweed.

 

 

When I pruned back my firebush at one point I found 47 chrysalises, which I carefully hung with dental floss on a nearby garden statue. This arresting sight gave me an idea.  My father was coming to visit, and he was too unsteady to navigate my garden.  I wanted to bring the magic of metamorphosis to the deck, where he could safely sit and watch and be spellbound.  And indeed he was!

 

I had bought a cedar bird cage when living in Peru, not with the idea of caging a bird but because I thought it was beautiful. I set it out on our deck under a little awning and surrounded it with milkweed. When the caterpillars had eaten their fill and were ready to pupate, most of them climbed up the bird cage to continue the process of metamorphosis.  The idea of a Monarch tower would become an important part of Bound by Beauty.

As time passed and my Monarchs flourished, I began creating new planting beds in locations where I could sit in comfort and watch the butterfly action.  

 

This was the second bed I created. It has since tripled in size as I gradually added more and more plants.  At this time, I was planting mostly non-natives.  The native Wild lime, which hosts the Giant swallowtail caterpillars, has grown enormous and has attracted many beautiful bird species that add to the magic as well.

 

I added another bed with Jatropha and Sweet almond verbena.  The grass-like plant is African iris.

I realized as I added bed after bed, with grass pathways in between, that the pathways were like rivers winding through my garden, and the planting beds were like little islands.  This gave my garden a lovely meandering feel.  I ended up replacing some of the grass paths with mulched paths as there was too much foot traffic for the grass to survive.  The paths mulched with leaves gives the feeling of wandering through a forest which I love.  I added seating on some of the islands so I could observe my garden from various perspectives.

 

It is a good idea to add seating in shady spots so you can enjoy your garden in comfort, even during the heat of a South Florida summer. This shade is courtesy of my Wild lime, which started out as a tiny tree and has now taken over this entire corner of my garden (the perennial problem for newbie gardeners!). I love it for the wildlife it attracts.  Note the water feature and bird feeder, both of which attract lots of beautiful migratory and overwintering birds, as well as dragonflies and frogs. Given the extreme difficulty of their migratory journeys, it fills me with joy when I see a bird refreshing herself in the bird fountain, or filling her belly with seed or berries that I provided.

 

Over time, as I read more and learned more, I gradually began to plant mostly native plants for butterflies and other pollinators. Douglas Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home is a great place to begin if you want to learn more about the vital connection between native plants and native insects.  And his book Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in your Yard makes it clear how each and every one of us can play a role in saving nature if we own even a little bit of land.  

Red tropical sage is a wonderful native wildflower that can grow in sun or shade, and feeds butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Gaillardia, in the foreground, is a great plant for native bees which are so important in our ecosystem.

 

Beautiful and useful in so many ways, and to think that some people consider this to be a lawn weed and douse it in herbicide to eradicate it. Fogfruit provides nectar to native bees and other pollinators and is the host plant for four different butterfly species. It also does well as a ground cover in either sun or shade.
This pretty little planting is mostly Seashore ageratum, an endangered plant, and Beach verbena. There is also some Brazilian button flower, a non-native and aggressive plant sold to me as a native thistle by Urban Habitat, so let the buyer beware!
Shiny leaf wild coffee attracts Zebra butterflies and birds when it is in bloom. It is a great plant for partial shade.
The Wild coffee fruit is devoured by migratory birds.  I gradually became more and more interested in including plants that feed birds, and the magic in my garden increased exponentially.

One of my favorite plants of all is passion vine, as it feeds the caterpillars of three beautiful butterfly species, the most interesting being the Zebra.

 

I was very proud of my magnificent passion vine that covered an awning frame that had the remnants of a shredded fabric awning left by the previous owner.  This passion vine awning survived a hit from Irma, which a fabric awning might not have.  You can see in the foreground my vegetable garden, which our village made us remove as it was in the — gasp! — side yard, despite the fact that was the only area in my garden with sufficient sun in the winter, which is our growing season.  I turned lemons into lemonade by replacing the vegetable garden with a flower meadow, although I left the parsley for the Black swallowtail caterpillars.

  The passion vine brought in clouds of Zebras, a mesmerizing sight.  In fact, one of those clouds of Zebras is responsible in part for the creation of Bound by Beauty.    

 

What in the world, you might reasonably ask? I had no idea what I was seeing when I encountered this in my garden one day.  After looking at it carefully, I saw that it is a Zebra chrysalis in the middle, with two butterflies hanging upside down from it on either side.  Some quick googling revealed that the female is in the center, and the butterflies on either side are males, their abdomens locked and loaded and ready to mate with the female as soon as she descends from the chrysalis.  When you see a cloud of Zebras, you are likely seeing male Zebras all fluttering around together searching for females.

 

Here you can see the newly emerged female on the left, her wings still small and furled, her abdomen still filled with fluid. Mating takes time, as does allowing the wings to lengthen and harden enough to fly.  From nature’s perspective, this makes a lot of sense.  It also ensures that the males with the best sense of smell will pass that on to their offspring.  A good sense of smell is particularly important when a female is laying her eggs, to ensure she lays them on the right plant.

 

Female Zebras lay their eggs in clusters. It looks like several females laid eggs on the same frond. A number of the eggs will be eaten by ants or lizards before the caterpillars have a chance to hatch, but enough will hatch to keep the circle of life going.

 

 

Zebra caterpillars can make short work of a passion vine.  Which leads me to….

 

 

Yes, this is the same magnificent vine pictured above, the leaves having been devoured by legions of very hungry caterpillars.

An unsightly mess to be sure, but filled with transformative magic as the denuded vine was covered in chrysalises.  One morning, I saw that a young woman in a car on the swale seemed to be having some trouble.  I went up to the car and saw that she was weeping.  I gently tapped on the window which she rolled down.  I asked if there were anything I could do to help her.  After a pause, she asked, “will you give me a hug?”  I said of course, and hugged her when she got out of the car.  I explained that my garden was right next to her car, and invited her to come in where I could give her some water and we could talk.  She could hardly walk because she was crying so hard, explaining that she’d been on her way to “do something dark” after experiencing a body-blow betrayal from her boyfriend, but she had to stop the car when she could no longer see the road.  I sat her down in one of the two chairs under that caterpillar-eaten awning, and told her to look up.  I was watching her face when she looked up and saw a cloud of 20-30 Zebra butterflies fluttering overhead.  Her expression went from grief stricken to awestruck in the blink of an eye.  It was a remarkable paradigm shift in emotions. 

What else can you think of that can transform grief to awe in an instant?  It was witnessing this paradigm shift, along with other remarkable paradigm shifts in visitors to my garden who witnessed the process of metamorphosis, or the sight of clouds of butterflies.  I realized that the need for a paradigm shift in thinking about climate change and sea level rise could perhaps be accomplished, at least in part, by the transformative power of butterflies and the process of metamorphosis, and thus did Bound by Beauty come into being.

I began this journey with zero knowledge.  Despite having lived three years in Costa Rica with all of its amazing butterflies, it had never occurred to me to plant for butterflies until that fateful day when my landscaper showed up with milkweed.  I have learned a tremendous amount in the seven years since then, mostly through trial and error, and through extensive reading and talking with those with more experience.  Many of my plants have come from seeds, seedlings, and cuttings from friends’ gardens, creating wonderful and meaningful connections between gardens and gardeners.  And, even though I have lived all over the world and have had unforgettable experiences, I can truly say that this wildlife journey is the adventure of a lifetime.

If you have a little bit of land, please join those of us at Bound by Beauty by turning it over to native plants that attract wildlife.  You will create a sanctuary filled with beauty and awe and magic and wonder, and you will inspire your neighbors to follow suit.  Imagine what we can do when we join hands with our neighbors and connect our gardens to save the precious natural world upon which we all depend.  You will be filled with joy on a daily basis. 

 

Connect, Educate, Transform, Replicate

 

 

 

 

 

The Rebel Botanist Gang and Swale Safaris

The Rebel Botanist Gang (a/k/a the RBG), under the auspices of Bound by Beauty, is developing a program called Swale Safaris to engage and teach young adults, children, and adults about the beauty and importance of the Nature that is right under our noses, i.e. the “wild plants” we view as weeds in our lawns and swales.  Most of us are unaware of the fact that these plants play an important role in our ecosystem: many of them provide nectar for butterflies and other important pollinators; and some are host plants for butterflies, meaning pregnant females lay their eggs on the leaves for their caterpillars to eat.  And many of them were around long before we wandered onto the scene.  Our first participants were a group of students from the Doctors Charter Key Club and Miami Arts Charter school.  These young people will earn community service hours by becoming team leaders who can guide others on Swale Safaris.
  

When one is outdoors amidst a sea of host and nectar plants, magic is bound to happen and the first students to arrive were treated to the breathtaking sight of a Giant swallowtail butterfly floating around and drinking nectar.  Most of them had never seen this gorgeous creature.  What a perfect way to launch our new program!

 

The masked and socially distanced students got a little history lesson about the early days of Miami Shores, which is closely tied to nature: The Shoreland Company that began to develop the area went bankrupt in large part due to the Hurricane of 1926, a good reminder that nature bats last.

The first thing we handed the students were magnifying glasses to remind them of the importance of examining closely the natural world that surrounds us, and upon which we depend for our own survival.  We put the magnifying glasses to good use during a tour of the wildlife garden, prior to heading out on safari.

 

Newly hatched Atala butterfly caterpillars are so tiny that they are difficult to see with the naked eye.

After we finished the garden tour, we ventured out into the swale, armed with knowledge and magnifying glasses!

 

Fogfruit (or Frogfruit or Creeping Charlie or Turkey tangle) is found in most of our swales if we don’t use herbicides. Fogfruit is an important nectar plant for native and honeybees as well as small butterflies. It also is the host plant for four butterfly species.
 

 

Beggartick resides in most swales. It feeds the caterpillars of three butterfly species.  

 

The green shrimp plant is invasive, but it feeds the caterpillars of three butterfly species.

 

This corkystem passionvine, whose leaves feed the caterpillars of four butterfly species, and whose tiny flower provides nectar for bees, was found in the swale under a tree. That makes sense, given that birds love to eat the berries.

By opening our eyes and minds to the wonderful roles these plants have in nature, we hope to open our hearts to the fact that we need to coexist with them rather than drenching our swales with herbicides.  After all, when the swale is mowed, you can hardly tell the difference between sod and wild plants.  Why don’t you head out into your own swale to see what you can find?

 

A Few of Our Favorite Natives

 

 

Would you like to transform your garden into a place of beauty where migrating birds find sanctuary and sustenance and butterflies and bees find their fill of nectar, but you don’t know where to start?  We’ve got you covered: read on to learn about some of our favorite native plants that will make birds, butterflies, bees — and you — happy.  There is a whole world of native plants to discover, but there is nothing wrong starting out with baby steps and planting one or two to start with.  You can read more about these plants by clicking on their names.  And you can find many more recommended plants by reading our other posts, which are listed below.

 

Blue porterweed has such pretty flowers.

The native Blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) is a perennial classic that is drought-tolerant and thrives in full sun to partial shade. The small delicate blue/purple flowers are the perfect calling card for Gulf fritillary, Julia, Monarch, and Sulphur butterflies. This plant does well in pots or planted in the ground, and will grow to about 2 ½ to 3’ tall.  The possibilities of use in a landscape are endless. They can be used as a mid-size mixed low hedge, along a walkway, grouped as ground cover shrubs, or even an accent to a garden entrance or a mailbox post.      

 

Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees sip nectar from the flowers, and birds eat the delectable fruit of the Little strongback.

Pineland or Little strongback/strongbark (Bourreria cassinifolia) is a wonderful small tree growing to about 7 feet tall and 4-5 feet wide, with gracefully cascading branches covered with delicate leaves that allow the sun to shine under the plant, making it a perfect choice for the center of a grouping as well as a stand-alone tree.  All year round, the Little strongback’s sweet little white flowers offer nectar to a variety of butterflies and bees, and orange berries that provide food for birds, making it a perfect plant for wildlife.  It is endangered in the wild which makes us want to protect it in our gardens.

 

The flowers of the native Lantana involucrata attract Zebra butterflies and other pollinators. The berries delight birds.

Known as Button sage or Wild sage (Lantana Involucrata), this shrub typically grows to about 5 feet tall and about as wide (although in the right conditions it can grow as tall as 8 feet).  It gets its name from the lovely smell of the leaves, and the beautiful little white or pale pink multi-clustered flowers that look like old-fashioned buttons.  The flowers attract butterflies like the Atala and the Zebra, and bees as well.  If that isn’t enough to convince you to plant one in your garden, how about the fact that its beautiful purple berries attract all manner of birds, including Mockingbirds and migrating warblers.  This is another winner for wildlife.

 

A beautiful Atala butterfly sips the nectar from a Pineland croton.

Pineland croton (Croton linearis) is a smallish shrub growing to about 5 feet high and 6 feet wide, if left unpruned.  Its little white flowers look insignificant to the human eye, but you should see the video we have of Atala butterflies brawling over the nectar, which bees love as well.  Its leaves are long and graceful and a lovely sage green.  This plant is also the host plant to two critically imperiled pine rockland species of butterflies, which is a good enough reason to plant it in your garden as a symbol of hope for all endangered creatures.  This shrub tends to fall forward while growing but can easily be propped up with a small stake or that frame for a campaign poster that you’ve been keeping around, hoping to find the perfect way to upcycle it.

 

 

Fogfruit is beautiful and useful in so many ways. And to think that some people consider this to be a lawn weed and douse it in herbicide to eradicate it.

 

 Phyla nodiflora is so amazing that it has four common names: fogfruit or frogfruit or turkey tangle or creeping Charlie.  It is a wonderful little versatile plant that grows to about 3 inches in the sun (taller in the shade) and spreads through runners, so it also makes a wonderful ground cover in low traffic areas.  The pretty little flowers are white and purple, bloom all year round, and attract all sorts of pollinators, including native bees (native bees do not look like honeybees and are typically smaller or larger) and small butterfly species.  In addition to being a wonderful nectar plant, it is a host plant for four — yes four! — species of butterflies, who lay their eggs on the leaves for their caterpillars to eat. 

 

We find yellow flowers add such a cheerful presence in the garden.

Privet Senna (Senna ligustrina), also known as privet wild sensitive plant, privet senna is a perennial shrub with stunning, showy butter yellow blooms. Sulphur butterflies, including the stunning orange barred sulphur (Phoebis philea), lay their eggs on this plant so their caterpillars can eat the leaves. Solitary native bees also love the beautiful blooms and help pollinate the plant, and we love any plant that feeds native bees.  This plant loves full sun, however it is a short day plant, so a sunny spot that gets shade during part of the day is just perfect! It is a fast grower and will be reach 4-8 feet in height and approx 4 feet wide within 1-2 seasons. It graciously produces seed pods with seeds that germinate easily so it is a wonderful choice for propagation and sharing with friends and neighbors.

 

We love the color of the flowers!

Teabush, aka Woolly Teabush/Woolly Pyramid Flower/ or Broomwood (Melochia Tomentosa) is a tall flowering shrub that enjoys full sun. It can grow to a height of 12-14 feet and 4-6 feet wide but can be maintained at a smaller profile with regular pruning if so desired.  This shrub has lovely abundant small purple flowers that lean toward a light magenta. It’s leaves are a soft greyish green. The Teabush is a bee magnet and is also frequented by a variety of butterflies who sip its nectar. Ladybugs and dragonflies also visit this garden beauty. 

These are just a few of the plants that delight us.  You can find them in native nurseries, or take advantage of Steve Woodmansee’s deliveries to our area.  His next delivery is this coming Saturday, November 14.  The deadline for placing an order is tomorrow, November 10.  You can email him at steve@pronative.com to get on his mailing list and to place an order.  To read about more plants we recommend, check out these posts: Create a Nursery Filled with Bugs for Baby BirdsAttract Butterflies, Birds, and Bees to your Garden with a Hedgepodge; and Saving Birds with a Butterfly Garden.

Put Out a Green Welcome Mat for Migratory Birds

By Mary Benton and Michael Faisal Green

In Collaboration with Pelican Harbor Seabird Station

Hello South Floridians!  Just imagine for a moment if, in order to survive, you had to embark at night on a very long, difficult, and dangerous journey, in which you had to travel under your own power, guided only by the moon and stars, an internal compass and map and known landmarks.  Imagine further that you have to stop during the day to find food to give you energy to continue the journey ahead, without access to money or markets, but rather relying on the generosity of strangers.  That is the journey migratory birds make twice a year, and you are the stranger whose generosity can fuel their journey. 

When dawn breaks on the horizon, these migrating birds start scanning the world below for a welcoming bit of greenery in between the pavement and the buildings.  You can lay out a green welcome mat in the form of a garden filled with native plants that provide tasty treats like insect protein snacks and juicy berries, seeds and nectar, and perhaps a water feature where these beautiful and vulnerable creatures can refresh themselves before continuing on their journey.  The beauty these birds bring to your garden and the knowledge that you are making their journey easier, will give you much heartfelt joy, which is a powerfully positive feeling.  Read on to learn how you can make friends in high places by putting out a green welcome mat.  

But first, check out how perfectly positioned your garden is to provide sanctuary and sustenance to migrating birds:

The original snowbirds fly towards the stable weather of the tropics that promises them consistent daylight and warmth.  

Let’s take a moment to talk about why birds migrate.  Many bird species cannot survive the freezing temperatures of the northern climate, and cannot find sufficient food in a frozen landscape.  The tropics offer stability in the form of consistent daylight and warmth and enough food to ensure that the birds can survive.  However, competition for that food means the tropics cannot support the demands of raising a family.  The North American spring and summer offer something unique: the biggest explosion of biomass in the world, whereby photosynthetic processes go from suspension into overdrive.  This is fueled in part by soils rested by winter, but more so by the increase in sunlight, which is double the amount offered in winter.

What is as important as their winter and summer homes are the spring and autumn migratory routes – few more important than South Florida. During the spring, many birds leave Central/South America and the Caribbean islands and first arrive in South Florida. Arriving in a healthy ecosystem is essential for them after having flown hundreds of miles over water with no food – can you imagine? – and this is where your garden comes in. In the fall, their journey is reversed.  Most songbirds migrate during the night as they are not able to catch insects while flying. This results in huge ‘fallouts’, whereby tens of thousands of birds, having flown all night, suddenly fall out of the sky at dawn and descend on green spaces in search of food. These ‘fallouts’ can be detected by weather radar – birds carry a radar signature, in the same way that water particles do in rain – allowing us to see the huge swarm ahead of time. 

 

In this radar image from the National Weather Service’s Key West facility, a massive flock — 90 miles out from the center — of as many as 118 species of migratory birds is seen moving north on a February night. The green/yellow objects are biological objects flying north over the Keys. The darker blue objects indicate rain. [National Weather Service]
Maintaining a healthy, chemical-free biodiverse garden, with a water feature and a variety of native plants that attract insects and offer berries and nectar, is critical to the survival of these ‘passage’ migrants. The habitat quality of their migratory routes is just as important as that of their winter or summer homes. Birds start arriving from their winter destinations from February until the middle of May. The first migrants are typically Louisiana Waterthrushes, Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers and the last being Blackpolls – who mostly arrive from Colombia – and Painted Buntings. It is just as important for southbound migrants who rely on lush gardens and plants to stock up with fat deposits before their marathon flights over water from late summer to late fall.

So, load your garden up with native plants that attract insects, and provide nectar, seeds, and berries for beautiful creatures traveling to their winter or summer homes, download a bird ID app such as Merlin, iNaturalist, or Audubon, grab a pair of binoculars, and open your eyes and ears for some spectacular sights, like this beautiful Black-and-white-Warbler, whose call sounds like this.

Photo of a Black-and-white Warbler by Ryan Schain  from Cornell University’s All About Birds

Or this Black-throated Blue Warbler, whose call sounds like this.

Photo taken by Aaron Marshall in Ontario, from the McCauley Library at Cornell’s Ornithology Lab

Or the Cape May Warbler whose call sounds like this.

This Cape May Warbler was photographed by Keenan Yakola in Maine.

 

Those are just a few examples of the many passage migrants we might be lucky enough to see if our gardens are sufficiently inviting.  In addition to passage migrants, South Florida is also home to many winter migrants as climate change, habitat degradation in their usual wintering regions, in addition to urban development on their migratory routes, means that more and more birds are foregoing the trans-Caribbean flights and instead are settling in South Florida from late autumn to early spring.

Among these birds is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, which you are almost certain to hear before you see it as it is so tiny and fast and its wings make a very distinctive sound.  The semi deciduous habitat of South Florida means that there are always flowering native plants here and the one redeeming aspect of human development – a lonely and outnumbered redeeming factor it is too – is that there are a sufficient number of gardens and habitats replete with nectar-laden flowers that can sustain a number of these birds throughout the winter. Nurseries south of Miami also provide extra nectar for them. Hummingbirds love red flowers like Tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), Firebush (Hamelia patens), and Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), and will visit feeders, but please be mindful of how to maintain your feeders.  If we can transform our gardens and green spaces into sanctuaries so that they can safely winter here and be spared a dangerous and difficult trans-Caribbean flight, then that’s reason enough to do so, particularly given the extreme habitat degradation they’re experiencing on their migratory routes into their wintering locations. Indeed, it is likely that these birds, who’ve been around for hundreds of thousands of years longer than humans, used to always consider this their wintering home until we came along.   

 

Watercolor artist Kim Heise’s beautiful rendering of two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds drinking nectar from the native Coral honeysuckle vine.  Click here to see more of her beautiful art which raises awareness of the importance of protecting the beauty and biodiversity of South Florida’s native plants and animals.

 

Last, but certainly not least, if you are really lucky, and have a combination of shrubby thickets that provide cover, low-growing plants that provide berries, and grasses and other seed-bearing plants — not to mention a shallow water feature and a feeder filled with white millet seed — you might have the breathtaking experience of spotting one of these glorious creatures in your garden.  Once you have spotted one, it is very tempting to want to ditch your regular life and spend the entire day in the garden hoping to get another glimpse of this beautiful new feathered friend!  Painted Buntings, whose calls sound like this, are quite shy and easy to overlook, but they often travel around the garden in the company of their larger cousin, the Cardinal, which is a hard-to-miss bird with a distinctive metallic ‘chip’ sound that it employs while hunting for food.

A migrating jewel with wings called a Painted Bunting. If you provide the right ingredients, they might spend the winter in your garden, hunting for seeds and insects. Photo by Michael Faisal Green

 

These are only a few of the friends in high places we might be lucky enough to make if we fill our gardens with the right ingredients to entice them for a day or for a season.  If you’d like to read up on other migrants, as well as those birds that grace us with their presence year around, and how to attract them to your garden, you can buy Kirsten Hines’ book:

 

More tips on which native plants to use to attract and feed birds can be found in the following:

Attract Butterflies, Birds and Bees to your Garden with a Hedgepodge

Create a Nursery Filled with Bugs for Baby Birds

Saving Birds with a Butterfly Garden

The National Wildlife Federation can help you determine which plants in your area attract the greatest number of insects, which are the basis of protein for migratory birds.

While the National Audubon Society has a lot of great information on the importance of native plants in attracting birds and is a website that is well-worth the visit, we sadly can’t recommend their database of native plants which is searchable by zip code as far too many suggestions are not actually native to South Florida.

 

Create Your Own Nature Channel with a Flock of Roosting Zebras in Your Garden

Greetings South Floridians!  Imagine having a flock of Zebra butterflies in your garden.  Or maybe it’s a flutter?  A flurry?  Whatever it is called it is one of the most calming and mesmerizing sights you can see in a garden in these parts.  Zebra heliconian or longwing butterflies typically fly with a gentle flutter, unlike Monarchs who zoom around on strong wings, tiny Cassius blues with their chaotic and rapid flight style, or the Giant swallowtails with their stately swooping.  And Zebras flutter gently in groups unlike any of the other butterflies you might encounter in your garden, which really amplifies that calm and mesmerizing feeling.  Happily, if you have all the right ingredients, Zebras will hang around in your garden, allowing you to observe all aspects of their very interesting and highly unusual behavior.  If you’re really lucky, you might even get them to roost together in your garden at night.  Read on to see how to ensure your garden is filled with the beauty of our state butterfly.

reat A flock of roosters? Whatever you call them, you know your garden is a sanctuary when Zebra butterflies feel safe enough to sleep there, and that is a really good feeling. Providing a windbreak is important, but native nectar and host plants are key.

So what are the right ingredients that will not only attract Zebras, but will make them never want to leave your garden?  Native nectar plants attract the Zebra butterflies, along with a whole host of other butterflies.  And some attract birds as well.

The flowers of a Firebush will light up your garden even on the dreariest of days.

 

Zebra butterflies are drawn to the elongated flowers of the Firebush. Other pollinators and Hummingbirds love them as well.

 

Scarlet, or Tropical, sage is a Zebra butterfly fave. Hummingbirds will thank you too.

 

The flowers of the native Lantana involucrata aka Wild lantana or Wild sage attract Zebra butterflies and other pollinators. The berries delight birds.

 

Bees and butterflies love the sweet nectar of Wild coffee flowers. When they are in bloom, the garden smells like honey.  The flowers will turn into berries that delight birds.  

While nectar plants are necessary to attract the butterfly to your garden, making sure you have enough of their host plant — where they lay their eggs so their caterpillars can eat the leaves — is key.  In the case of the Zebra, the host plant is passion vine, which is fitting as Zebras are standouts in terms of butterfly mating behavior.

The teeny tiny flower of the Corkystem passion vine attracts pollinators.

 

If you have a hedge in South Florida and see Zebras fluttering around it, no doubt a bird or lizard dropped the remnants of a nice berry, from which the passion vine grew.  The Corkystem can grow in sun or shade, but female Zebras prefer a nice shady spot to lay their eggs, perhaps because their coloration is light and shadow so they are better camouflaged.

 

Another Florida native passion vine is the Maypop, with its surreal purple flowers. The Monarch pictured here was newly emerged from a nearby chrysalis and is still waiting for its wings to lengthen and harden.  

But back to Zebra reproduction: remember the mesmerizing “flock” or “flurry” of Zebras mentioned at the top?  That is all about sex.  Male Zebras travel in groups (gangs?) looking, or rather smelling their way around the garden, searching for female Zebras ripening in the chrysalis. The sense of smell is very important to a butterfly, as the female needs to be able to smell a host plant to be sure she is depositing her eggs where her babies will survive, so this method of mating ensures that the males with the best sense of smell are the ones to pass down their genes.  The male Zebra’s sense of species isn’t always as keen, however; their urge to reproduce is so strong that they sometimes try to mate with Monarchs, Julias, and other butterflies. 

What in the world, you might reasonably ask? This is a closeup of a female Zebra chrysalis in the center of the photo. On either side of her is a male Zebra, hanging upside down, his abdomen locked and loaded and ready to mate with the female as soon as she descends from the chrysalis. If another male were to try to horn in, and chances are they will, the males spread their wings to guard their prize.  Sometimes, they don’t even wait until the female emerges, engaging in pupal mating.  Each male has a 50/50 chance of passing on his genes.  A little creepy from the human perspective, you say?  Perhaps so, but read on to see why it makes so much sense from nature’s point of view. 

 

The newly emerged female is on the left, her wings still small and furled. Mating takes time, as does allowing the wings to lengthen and harden enough to fly.  Mating with a newly emerged butterfly is a perfect way to use that down time.  Nature is amazing like that.

 

On her maiden flight, the female is already pregnant. Since a butterfly’s only job in life is to reproduce, that is an excellent thing from nature’s perspective.  The male’s final act as a suitor is to endow her with a chemical that repels other males so she can go about the business of laying his eggs without being pestered by other amorous males.

 

It doesn’t take long for the pregnant female to start unloading her eggs. In this wonderful photo taken by Jane Atchison-Nevel, you can also see the yellow pollen on the proboscis. Zebra butterflies are capable of digesting pollen, which enables them to live longer than your average butterfly species, whose diet is limited to nectar.

 

Female Zebras lay their eggs on the freshest, newest fronds in clusters. It looks like several females laid their eggs on this frond. A number of the eggs will be eaten by ants or lizards before the caterpillars have a chance to hatch.

 

Enough eggs survive for lots and lots of caterpillars to hatch.  The white bits you see are empty egg casings.

 

So Zebras roost together, flutter around looking for females together, are laid together in clutches and, interestingly, the caterpillars tend to stay together to eat, wandering away from each other only when necessary to find sufficient passion vine leaves.

When you stop using pesticides and plant the right plants, you will have your very own Nature Channel right outside your door, a world of magic and beauty that elicits wonder and calms and soothes the soul.  As an added bonus, the passion vine is also the host plant for other Florida butterflies, including: 

Gulf fritillary butterflies, shown here mating, with the future butterfly munching away nearby.

 

And the Julia butterfly. While Gulf fritillaries and Julias don’t travel in groups, and don’t tend to hang around the garden like the Zebras, they are always a sight to behold.

Attract Butterflies, Birds, and Bees to Your Garden with a Hedgepodge

When people think of a hedge, they typically envision a green wall that offers privacy and a windbreak. It probably doesn’t occur to many that such manicured green walls are actually harmful for the environment as they require upkeep in the form of noisy, polluting hedge trimmers and, particularly in the case of Ficus hedges, toxic chemical insecticides. What if you could create a hedge that actually benefited the environment, while bringing beauty and birdsong to your garden? 

“Benefiting the environment sounds like a good plan to us”, say these Red-masked Parakeets.  “We’d give it two thumbs up if we had thumbs!  Heck, we’d give it four thumbs up, but then we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”   Photo by Michael Faisal Green

We invite you to ponder the concept of a ‘hedgepodge’, a biodiverse vertical food forest for butterflies, bees, and birds created from a myriad of beautiful native wildflowers, shrubs, vines, and small trees. You will still get your privacy and a windbreak. More importantly in this era of climate change, you will be creating something that actually helps conserve the ecosystems upon which our lives depend. What will you have to give up? The polluting noise of hedge trimmers, toxic chemicals poisoning your landscape, and a bit of your manicured mindset. What will you gain in return? Beauty in the form of clouds of floating butterflies, happy bees, migrating jewels with wings, and the satisfaction that comes with knowing that you are helping make their lives — and thus your own — possible.

A migrating jewel with wings called a Painted Bunting. If you have the right plants, they might spend the winter in your garden, hunting for insects and seeds in your hedgepodge. Photo by Michael Faisal Green

So, how do I get started, you ask?  If you have an existing hedge, consider planting some native Corkystem passion vines every few yards along the length of it.  The mere act of doing so will bring three different butterfly species to your garden, attract birds to the tiny purple berries, and give buzzy bees some sweet nectar.  Corkystem is a gentle vine with tendrils that won’t strangle your existing plants.  And it grows just fine in sun or shade.  Just make sure you put a barrier around it to keep the lawn guy from weed wacking the vine.

Zebra butterflies getting ready to roost for the night in a hedgepodge.  Yes, roosting Zebras are a thing.  They lay their eggs on Corkystem.
Julia butterfly chilling in a garden that provides plenty of nectar and host plants.  She just finished laying her eggs on Corkystem.  Note the thicket in the back.  Birds like to hunt insects there.
A pair of Gulf fritillary butterflies mating next to a future butterfly consuming the leaves of a Corkystem passionvine.

Will it be messy, you ask?  Well, there is poop involved, from both the caterpillars and the birds.  But the former creates compost and the latter produces seedlings.  

“We do produce a lot of caterpillar frass, but it enriches the soil”, say the Zebra caterpillars.
Corkystem passionvine berries make a yummy snack for birds.  They digest the pulp and poop out the seeds, creating lots of new Corkystem seedlings.  If they pop up where you don’t want them, you can easily dig them up and re-plant them near your hedge.  Don’t forget to water them until they recover from the transplant.
Last but not least with this remarkable native vine, the diminutive flowers attract bees.  Photo from Wild South Florida.

If your existing hedge has holes in it, or if you are starting with a clean slate, there are lots of wonderful Florida natives that will delight you by bringing more beauty to the garden.  Take Wild Coffees, for instance.  There are two Florida natives: Bahama wild-coffee and Shiny-leaf wild coffee.  These attractive plants do well in a variety of growing conditions, attract butterflies and other pollinators, as well as birds who eat the fruit.  You can click on their names to do a little research to see if they’re a good fit for your garden.

Bees and butterflies like Zebras and Atalas love the sweet nectar of Wild coffee flowers. When they are in bloom, the garden smells like honey.
Wild coffee fruit is devoured by birds like cardinals, mockingbirds, and catbirds.  I know, the berries look delicious, but the taste to a human palate is rather bland.  I’d leave them for the birds.  And, no, they don’t contain caffeine either.

And then there are the Stoppers: Red stopper, which has white flowers and orange fruit; Red-berry stopper, with white flowers and red fruit; Spanish stopper, with white flowers and brown and black fruit; White stopper, with white flowers and red and black fruit (and, some say, it smells a bit like skunk); and last but not least, the Simpson stopper, with white flowers and orange fruit.  All of these shrubs attract birds and pollinators.

These make a very merry birdie feast.
The flowers attract lots of pollinators.

Another plant to consider —  the Pineland strongback  or Little strongback (or strongbark as it is frequently called) — is one of my favorites, so much so that I have it as a stand-alone shrub that has delicate, cascading branches that are covered year-round with white flowers and orange fruit.  I once watched a female Black-throated blue warbler pop one in her mouth, even though it was nearly as big as her head.  It would make a fine addition to a hedgepodge.

Hummingbirds and others sip nectar from the flowers, and birds eat the delectable fruit.
Here’s the beautiful little female Black-throated Blue Warbler. In addition to eating the fruit of the Little strongback, she likes bathing a lot, so you might want to consider installing a bird bath or other water feature.  Photo by Michael Faisal Green.
Here is her mate who. when he’s not hunting insects, likes berries and baths too.  Photo also by Michael Faisal Green.

The White indigoberry is another shrub to consider adding to your hedgepodge.  Birds eat the white fruit and butterflies flock to its nectar.

These white flowers have nectar that attracts a number of butterflies, including the imperiled Schaus’ swallowtail.

Another good hedgepodge plant for wildlife is the Wax myrtle.  It has white and green fruit that gives cover and food to birds and feeds two kinds of butterfly caterpillars.

Also known as Bayberry, Birds love the seeds and find cover among the leaves.

Myrsine is another good choice, especially if your soil is very sandy and you live near the coast. 

Also known as colicwood, Florida myrsine has white flowers, black fruit, and attractive leaves.

Last but not least, is the Florida privet, a lovely, salt-tolerant shrub with yellow and green flowers, and blue, purple and black fruit that attracts birds.

Kirsten Hines photographed this sweet little Prairie Warbler looking for food in a Florida privet.

There are numerous other plants that would make a fine addition to a hedgepodge, but I’ve given you a lot to go on.  In between doing research into which plants make most sense in your garden, why don’t you order Kirsten Hines’ book, which will tell you all you need to know about attracting birds to your garden in South Florida.  And while you’re at it, why not daydream about your neighbors converting their hedges to hedgepodges, thereby providing thriving and beautiful wildlife corridors throughout the community.

To read more about the importance of native plants and insects, order this book:

Each one of us who owns a bit of land can make a huge difference in conserving our ecosystem by planting native plants and stopping the use of toxic chemicals in the landscape, thereby creating a more resilient and sustainable world.  You too can be part of the solution!