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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
In collaboration with Pelican Harbor Seabird Station
Greetings, South Floridians! Imagine turning your garden into a nursery for baby birds, a place of beauty that attracts creatures great and small; aerial and terrestrial; colorful, silent or singing, shy or gregarious. You can create a playground and dining hall for generations of birds who will delight you with their beauty and birdsong. You can make new friends without leaving your garden!
Unlike humans, these creatures have specific breeding seasons and for birds, it is spring and early summer in South Florida (December to June). Birds pick this time to reproduce as the combination of moderate heat and dryness means the height of food availability. Mild temperatures reduce heat-induced fatigue and stress; trees are blooming, attracting insects and producing fruits and seeds; and the dry season means their primary source of food – insects – are less likely to be grounded by rain. Plus, their breeding season aligns perfectly with the time of year when we want to be outside in the garden due to the lovely weather, so we have a wonderful opportunity to observe these beautiful and vulnerable creatures. How cool is that? Read on to see the easy steps we can take to attract, nurture, and enjoy the company of our feathered friends in our very own gardens.
The single most important thing you can do to when creating a nursery is to stop using toxic chemicals. We can’t stress enough how important this is. If you use toxic chemicals in your garden to kill mosquitoes or rats, or to control weeds, you will be killing the insects that birds — especially baby birds — rely on for protein, and poisoning the berries and seeds the adult birds eat (and don’t forget that humans need insects — particularly pollinators — to survive). You wouldn’t think of using toxic chemicals around a human baby, and baby birds are even more vulnerable. There are many organic practices and products that you can use in place of toxic chemicals so no excuses, right?
The second most important thing you can do is to plant native plants. Why natives? Native plants attract more insects. Who needs insects? That’s right: birds need insects, especially the babies who need protein to grow into healthy adults. Need help deciding which to plant? You can check out this cool tool of a Native Plant Finder, enter your zip code, and get a list of native flowers, grasses, trees and shrubs that attract the most insects in your area. It is a work in progress, but there are lots of great suggestions and it is continuously being improved. The Florida Native Plant Society‘s website, along with the Institute for Regional Conservation’s Natives for your Neighborhood are full of helpful information on what native plants will work best in your garden. You can start small, but you’ll soon become addicted, especially if a number of those plants also attract butterflies. Beautiful plants attracting butterflies and birds: what’s not to love?
You can supplement the bird food supply by setting up bird feeders close to tree or shrub cover, using white millet or black sunflower seeds. Bird feeders can take many forms. They also allow you to get a better view of your feathered friends, so set them up and sit back and enjoy!
Leave a supply of bird nest building materials.
Install a water feature. You get extra points for having running water that the birds can hear.
Although this can be a touchy subject given the fact that feral cats, many of which have been neutered, abound in our community, cats and birds don’t mix. Cats are the single biggest killer of birds and their babies. Please keep domestic cats indoors, particularly during baby bird season.
Refrain from trimming shrubs, trees, or hedges until the rainy season commences in June. Trimming reduces cover, stresses the birds and can damage or destroy nests and kill the babies. And try to find an arborist who is sensitive to such issues.
The northern mockingbird is part of the thrush family – all of which are proficient in mimicking the songs of dozens of other species and common sounds. They do this using phrases and mockingbirds, as a general rule, repeat these phrases three or more times. So often they will mimic a blue jay by repeating their calls a minimum of three times and then immediately succeed that with imitating another bird/sound three or more times. Mockingbirds have an astounding musical repertoire, and seldom will you find them singing the same song, so whilst every song can be varied, it is easily recognisable by the number of repetitions. If you’re not sure what they sound like, you can check out their song here.
We hope this post helps you understand how you can work with nature to create a safe space full of tasty food for baby birds and their parents right in your very own garden. Knowing that you are playing a role in ensuring that the babies reach adulthood and take to the skies is a wonderful feeling!
Bound by Beauty (BbB), in collaboration with middle and high school teachers Monica Gross and Frank Mataska and their students at Doctors Charter School (DCS), BbB’s Network of Neighborhood Nurturies, TreeHuggers LLC, as well as other members of the community, launched Natives for Neighbors as a pilot program in the 2019/2020 school year. This program is designed to teach students about the role and importance of plant and animal species that are native to South Florida ecosystems, and to help them gain an understanding of both the negative and positive impacts humans can have on these communities. In studying the problems humans cause such as habitat destruction and pesticide use, students identify concrete actions to help solve them.
Thanks to Natives for Neighbors, 7th grade DCS students planted over 60 native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, including 10 donated to the school by Fairchild’s Connect to Protect Network, providing habitat for butterflies, bees, and other insects that are essential for the survival of the natural world, including our own survival as humans. By increasing the number of locally-grown trees and shrubs that sequester carbon, cool our community, filter our groundwater, and protect our food supply by providing habitat for pollinators, students play a direct role in making our community more beautiful, resilient, and sustainable.
How does the program work?
Native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers are either donated by members of BbB’s nurturies, or purchased from area nurseries. Students identify a location in their yards or communities, and choose a plant that will thrive in those conditions. Students learn practical skills such as how to plant and nurture native plants at school, and take those lessons home with them, along with their new plants. After transplanting the plants in their own gardens, students continue to nurture and observe them, while studying the relationships that these plants have with their living and nonliving environment, and how they form viable solutions to human-caused environmental problems. According to a follow-up survey nearly half of the students reported seeing an increase in the amount of wildlife such as birds, butterflies, and other insects in their gardens from one plant alone!
Students will learn how to identify, harvest, and nurture seeds and seedlings from their own plants, sharing those seeds with members of the community, Brockway Library’s seed collection, and the seedlings and their planting and nurturing skills with friends and neighbors. This project will grow organically as more native plants are planted every year, and more seeds and seedlings are available for harvest and sharing. In addition to increased knowledge among students, there will be a growing interest among neighbors in participating in this collaboration. Students will create an identification chart of natives to instruct others, and share that and other useful information via the school’s website so as to encourage others in the community to participate.
Every year, the community will achieve increased canopy cover and cooler temperatures that offset global warming as new groups of middle school students plant their natives. Finally, their work outdoors will have an additional long-lasting impact because student participants will gain a greater appreciation for nature. Imagine what can be achieved if more area schools joined in their efforts to make more and more native plants thrive in our community!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The White indigoberry is another shrub to consider adding to your hedgepodge. Birds eat the white fruit and butterflies flock to its nectar.
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.
Myrsine is another good choice, especially if your soil is very sandy and you live near the coast.
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.
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:
Bound by Beauty officially launched Saving Butterflies 101 with a gathering of neighbors on our two blocks in Miami Shores. Susan, a neighbor and ally in the fight for nature and for our future, and I went door-to-door to deliver invitations. We followed up a week later by leaving friendly reminders on our neighbors’ doors. You can do this on your own, but it is much more fun if you find an ally on your block, and less work too!
To prepare for the gathering, we made a sign-in sheet with columns for name, address, phone number, email, and preferred means of communication, including text, WhatsApp, or other.
We also rummaged around and found some butterfly-approved name tags for the visual learners among us. Although Susan and I already knew a number of our neighbors, imagine our surprise when one door opened to reveal a neighbor from Italy, who has lived on the block for 14 years! Who knew? What a lovely surprise! Ciao, Luca!
We are fortunate on our block to have neighbors who are former law enforcement, doctors, urban planners, architects, public health professionals, engineers, and butterfly and vegetable gardeners, among others; imagine what we can accomplish together! And we discovered that five of our neighbors have a connection to Denver, Colorado: what are the odds of that?
We started off by explaining the goal of Saving Butterflies 101, which is to join forces with neighbors to create a safer, stronger, healthier, more beautiful, resilient and sustainable community, block by block. We intend to do so by following Bound by Beauty’s motto: Connect, Educate, Transform, Replicate.
The replication part is very important, as we want neighbors on blocks all around us to be inspired and informed about how they can transform their own block. To this end, we invited a neighbor from a block south of us who is eager to join forces with neighbors on her block. That’s Pat, our southern neighbor, on the right in the photo below. Go Pat!
We broke down each of the goals, beginning with brainstorming about how to make our two blocks safer, which is what this post is about (stay tuned for future posts about how we can accomplish our goals of becoming a stronger, healthier, more beautiful, resilient, and sustainable community, block by block). Having as many neighbors as possible gathered together, getting to know one another, is a hugely important first step in making us safer. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!
Neighbors spending more time outdoors also makes our block safer, and we talked about ways in which we could do that, while learning from each other as well. Ideas for block workshops include composting, rain barrels, pollinator and bird gardens, growing vegetables, pruning, and propagation. A lot of these ideas will help us achieve our other goals as well.
Security systems, including video cameras and lights, are an important part of being safer. We got recommendations from neighbors who had security systems installed. Some neighbors installed their own, while others used an electrician. Everybody agreed that such systems make us safer, starting with the Ring doorbell, and the Neighbors app that connects us.
One of our neighbors who is former law enforcement had some great, common sense ideas on how to be safer on the block, including being aware of our surroundings especially when we are returning home after dark, or coming home from Publix. If a car appears to be tailing us, we should drive past our home and head straight to the police station to avoid a potential armed robbery.
We agreed that we are safer as neighbors on a block if our trees are properly trimmed before hurricane season. Not only do improperly trimmed trees imperil us and our houses, but downed limbs are the most likely cause of downed electrical lines. Life without electricity, especially in the heat of the summer in the aftermath of a tropical storm or hurricane, is miserable and dangerous. Those of us on the block who have trees on our property can save money by getting a group discount from a certified arborist and tree trimming company, while making all of us safer.
To connect us further, we all agreed that we wanted to be part of a text and email group. We plan to use the text communication for emergencies and time-sensitive issues, and email for recommendations, invitations, etc. We talked about letting our neighbors know when we’re away and asking neighbors to pick up boxes that are delivered when we’re out.
All of these ideas will make us safer and enhance our sense of trust and security in an uncertain future as we join forces with our neighbors. As the newest neighbor on the block wrote after the meeting: “It was wonderful to finally meet so many of our neighbors and come together to make our neighborhood even better.”
STOP…….and imagine a world where kids take to the streets in a peaceful manner to demand that adults start taking action to protect their futures…. We found some old photos dated 4/19/1972 in Flashback Miami Shores, showing Miami Shores police stopping traffic on NE 6th Avenue so the elementary school students could march against pollution. Wow! What happened? When did children stop marching against pollution? How can we get them re-engaged in the world around them?
These photos inspired us at Bound by Beauty to do something to activate and inspire young people to take to the streets again. What better way to empower them than a positive Pollinator Parade that would be tons of fun and would educate people about the importance of pollinators? We found willing partners in Inspiration Pollination, and Pesticide-free Miami Shores. Inspiration Pollination is a nationwide collective that uses art to connect the public with the plight of pollinators, and Pesticide-free Miami Shores is an offshoot of Pesticide Free Miami, a coalition working towards local policy banning harmful pesticides and herbicides in public spaces.
Melanie Oliva, the inspiration behind Inspiration Pollination, came up with a winning logo for the parade, and we handed out butterfly fans to various schools and community organizations to create a “buzz.” Come join us on Saturday to celebrate the pollinators that make our lives possible! Wear a costume, make a sign, bring a musical instrument, and get ready to have fun and make history in Miami Shores in the first annual Pollinator Parade at #GreenDayMiamiShores! Pssst, there will be face painting too, from 3:30-4:30 at the Bound by Beauty booth!