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!
Couple of years ago my dearest friend, Susan Howell, installed a butterfly garden in her front yard. While the idea was sound, I have to admit I also thought it was a bit peculiar. Then Susan walked me across the street to our friend Mary Benton’s house to show me what an established butterfly garden looks like and from that moment, I was enchanted.
Fast-forward about 9 months when Susan and I were exploring her garden, standing among dozens of winged butterflies, as we discussed my upcoming birthday when I casually mentioned that I would not mind having a few butterfly plants of my own. They would need to be in pots, however, because I live in a rented town house with a very small patio. Susan enthusiastically agreed.
Then on my birthday as we met for breakfast and dined on chicken n’ waffles and eggs benedict, Susan presented me with a gift of seed money, a coordinated contribution from 10 of our closest friends, to build my very own backyard butterfly garden. I was overwhelmed by the love and generosity of my friends and very excited as we hastened from the restaurant and made our way to Susan’s favorite nursery, an oasis of beautiful plant life that I had never seen before. She expertly hand selected every plant, astonishing me with her knowledge of plants and butterflies, host plants and nectar plants, caterpillars and chrysalis. I did not know if I would ever be able to grasp an understanding of it all.
We spent the day at my house, digging, planting, repotting and arranging. It was completely and utterly the most enjoyable and satisfying day I had spent in a long time.
Fast forward two years and I can tell you that my garden, still growing, has brought me unending joy. I can speak butterfly now! My small space seems much larger than it actually is, and I find some new wonder to marvel at almost every day.
Now I am rooting plants, repotting plants, introducing new plants… the garden has a life cycle all its own. I have seen hummingbirds and at least 4 species of butterflies including a brand-new visitor, the Giant Swallowtail butterfly! I cannot begin to describe how exciting that was, other than to say I Immediately purchased a wild lime tree to ensure that they will always return.
I could not have dreamed that I would create such a captivating garden in such a small space, but I did and you can and I am now and forevermore bound by its beauty.
Bound by Beauty note: We believe in the importance of planting as many native plants for wildlife as possible. However, that is often easier said than done. Few box stores and commercial nurseries offer native plants. It is nearly impossible to find native milkweed even in native nurseries in South Florida. However, we find that, as people educate themselves as they move through their butterfly journey, they gain an understanding of the importance of native plants. Since that wonderful butterfly birthday present, Lisa has gone on to plant a Wild lime (which grows into a tree but can be kept pruned), one of Florida’s few native citrus plants, and Tropical sage, a native wildflower that attracts butterflies, bees, and birds.
Other native plants that attract butterflies and other wildlife that do well in containers include: Corkystem passionvine; Pineland lantana; Tickseed; Fogfruit; Gaillardia; Wild sage; Lignum vitae; Little strongback; Scorpiontail; and Pineland heliotrope. Please note that some of these grow into small trees which would require root pruning over time, and we recommend you look these plants up either on the the Florida Native Plant Society website or the Institute for Regional Conservation before buying them for your container garden to ensure they fit your site requirements. Once you do, and you’ve installed your own container garden, let the magic begin!
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:
There have been a lot of dire reports and sobering warnings of late about the decline of bird species and the disappearance of birds throughout the world, mainly due to pesticide use, climate change, and loss of habitat. Most of us have empirical or anecdotal knowledge of this. It is a serious problem that everyone should take to heart. But, rather than focusing on the problem, this blog post is about what you can do to be part of the solution. Yes, YOU! What would you say if I told you that you could fill your garden with beauty and, in so doing, provide sanctuary and sustenance for our beloved birds at the same time? Imagine: a garden filled with flowers and berries and butterflies and bees AND birds. Wouldn’t you want to spend all your spare time in it? And aren’t our feathered friends worth it? I thought so. So, adjust your reading glasses, get comfy, and read on.
As Douglas W. Tallamy writes in Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, “It is increasingly clear…that much of our wildlife will not be able to survive unless food, shelter, and nest sites can be found in suburban habitats.”1 Chances are, you live in a suburban habitat, which may be just a lawn with a tree or two and a few plants from Home Depot, but that’s all going to change. What you need to do is stop using toxic chemical insecticides and herbicides that do more harm than good and plant a diversity of mostly native trees, shrubs and other plants that attract native insects (hint: butterflies and caterpillars are insects), that provide protein for birds. Although many birds love to mix it up with delectable berries, the vast majority rely on insects for their main food source. And since many species we see here in South Florida are migrating long distances, that protein becomes even more important. For most butterfly gardeners, knowing that you are providing sanctuary and sustenance to birds as well makes up for the sadness of losing a certain percentage of caterpillars and butterflies. Especially when you take into account all the caterpillar- and butterfly-eating lizards that the birds are also eating.
Lizard, hoping to snag an insect, before a bird or a bigger lizard snags him.
What’s that you ask? How does a butterfly garden filled with native nectar and host plants attract birds? Some, like the Wild lime tree, have seeds that only birds could love. Well, perhaps lizards too.
When the Wild lime tree produces seeds, it attracts birds all day long. Read on to see another reason birds hang out in this tree.
This Giant swallowtail is laying an egg on a Wild lime, the same tree that produces those hard little delicacies pictured above. The Wild lime is one of very few citrus native to Florida, and is impervious to diseases like citrus canker and greening. It provides no benefit to humans other than the beautiful butterflies and birds that visit it. Don’t you agree that is enough? Read more about the Wild lime.
The Giant swallowtail caterpillar looks remarkably like bird or, in this case, lizard poop. This is clearly designed to fool the birds…but birds are no fools (I wonder if lizards are?). All it takes is the slightest movement for them to tell the difference. In case you’re not sure, the caterpillar is the tasty morsel on the left.
Over time, the Giant swallowtail caterpillar shape shifts from lizard poop to snake-like creature, trying to fool the hungry birds into looking elsewhere for a meal.
Although birds do pick off a percentage of the poopy or scary Giant swallowtail caterpillars, there will always be those that manage to reach adulthood. As you can see from this photo of a newly emerged butterfly from a rescued chrysalis, you will be richly rewarded when they do. And check out the size relative to the relatively large Monarch butterfly.
If you plant Passion vine, you will attract three or four different butterfly species if you’re lucky: the Zebra, the Julia, the Gulf fritillary, and the Variegated fritillary. Here we have Zebra eggs, laid in a clutch. Learn more about the native Maypop passion vine and the Corkystem passion vine.
If you didn’t have predators like birds in your garden, you can imagine how quickly your Passion vine would be gobbled up. You did read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, right?
Zebra caterpillars are particularly vulnerable when they have just shed their too-tight skins and their spikes are still soft and translucent. Imagine what a tasty treat this little guy would be until exposure to air hardens and blackens the spikes.
You can see how much the Zebra caterpillars have grown, and can imagine how much Passion vine they will consume before they pupate.
And here the whole cycle is about to be repeated. Remember: for butterflies, it’s all about the mating, baby.
What’s that you say? You thought this post was supposed to be about birds, but all you see are photos of caterpillars and butterflies? Oops, here is one to give you, the reader, food for thought.
These White Ibis use their long, curved beaks to hunt for insects in the garden, aerating your lawn and ridding it of pests. If you use chemical insecticides or herbicides, you are having a direct negative impact on these beautiful, helpful creatures by poisoning them and depriving them of food. You don’t want to do that, do you? You can deal with a few weeds in your lawn to give these marvelous creatures a break, right?
This photo of a Prairie Warbler on a native Florida Privet was taken by Kirsten Hines, renowned nature photographer and author, in her own garden in Miami, FL. You can see her other nature photos on her Instagram page kirstennaturetravel. She knows a lot about attracting birds to South Florida gardens; in fact, she even co-authored a book about it. Learn more about the Prairie Warbler. Make sure you listen to its song.
That’s okay. I’ll wait while you order it. You won’t regret it. Or, if you live in Miami Shores, you can run over and check it out from Brockway Library.
Anyway, that adorable little Prairie Warbler Kirsten photographed in her garden can be found hopping around in shrubby habitats looking for — you guessed it — insects, like caterpillars and beetles, flies and lacewings, spiders and millipedes and other yummy protein snacks. My friend and poet and bird photographer Michael Faisal Green says some Prairie Warblers overwinter here in South Florida; others breed here in the summer, and some are year round residents. The Prairie Warbler’s song is beautiful and unforgettable and, like a number of bird species, you’ll likely hear the song before you see the bird. Wouldn’t you love to see and hear them in your garden? Kind of makes you want to run to the nearest native nursery to start carving up your useless lawn and creating that bushy shrubby habitat that will attract the insects that attract that beautiful creature with its song that ascends up the chromatic scale, doesn’t it?
Speaking of birds you often hear before you see, butterfly gardens also attract hummingbirds. In addition to nectar from plants that also attract butterflies, hummingbirds eat small insects like caterpillars, insect eggs, and spiders and feed them to their babies.
A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. In some lights, the ruby throat looks black. Learn more about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
The long tubular flowers of native Firebush are often visited by hummingbirds and a variety of butterflies.
Tropical, or Scarlet, sage is another plant with alluring red tubes. Zebra butterflies and hummingbirds are drawn irresistibly to its nectar. You can also find it in pink and white if red isn’t your thing.
Every human visitor to my garden likes my native Coral honeysuckle almost as much as the hummers!
The gorgeous non-native Firespike! Even if it didn’t attract hummingbirds and Zebra butterflies with its sweet nectar stored in alluring red tubes, you’d still want it in your garden, right? It also comes in magenta and other shades of pinky purple.
This delicate creature is a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, photographed by Michael Faisal Green.
Michael Faisal Green illuminates these beautiful, fragile, delicate creatures: The general rule is that there is only one hummingbird species that breeds in the US east of the Rockies — the Ruby-throated — and that’s most certainly true. However, the same cannot be said for wintering hummers. South Florida is getting increasing numbers of eastward migrants — hummers that breed on the West Coast and the South that migrate west to east, instead of the typical north to south. In addition to these uncommon migrants, South Florida is the winter home to many Ruby-throated hummers who spend their summers in the Northeast U.S. and as far north as Canada. Most of these migrants descend through the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean into Mexico and the West Indies, though living on a uniquely dangerous metabolic knife edge means that crossing the Gulf and flying for a day without rest constitutes one of the most astonishing acts of aerial endurance. They are literally hours away from starving to death during long flights. The semi deciduous habitats 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 native gardens and habitats, replete with nectar-laden flowers, to sustain small numbers of these birds throughout winter. Flower nurseries south of Miami also provide extra nectar for them. If we can maintain as much natural habitat as possible — they love red flowers like firespike and firebush — and cultivate gardens and green spaces so that they can safely winter here and spare them a dangerous trans Caribbean flight, then that’s reason enough, particularly given the extreme habitat degradation that they’re experiencing on their migratory routes into their wintering locations. Indeed, it is likely these birds, who’ve been around for hundreds of thousands of years longer than humans, used to always consider this their winter home until we came along. South Florida, keep those gardens native and alive with flowering plants that sustain them!
Read more about how to attract hummingbirds to your garden at worldbirds.org.
Firebush has flowers and berries. Kinda makes you want to pop one in your mouth.
Here’s another shot which I couldn’t resist adding, to point out the curious similarity between an Atala butterfly’s orange abdomen and some of the Firebush berries.
And speaking of berries, there are lots of other Florida natives that offer delectable berries to birds.
When the wild coffee isn’t offering berries to birds, it provides nectar for pollinators like this Zebra butterfly. And when it is in bloom, it fills the garden with the scent of honey.
This is the bright red fruit of the Rouge plant, a native that typically has blooms and berries at the same time. It also makes a fine perch for an Atala butterfly.
Another native plant that does double duty, offering flowers for pollinators and berries for birds is the Little Strongback. I watched a tiny female Black-throated Blue Warbler happily gobbling down one of these berries.
This is the male version of the Black-throated Blue Warbler, photographed by my friend, Michael Faisal Green. You can see his beautiful photos and musings on his Instagram page: my_fy_green and you can read more about these Black-throated Blue Warblers.. You will be very happy if you spot these beautiful little creatures in your garden.
You can see how the native American beautyberry shrub got its name. Most plants have just the purple berries, but this one decided to be different. I sat and watched that same female Black-throated Blue Warbler eat her fill of the purple ones the other day. I wonder if she is eating for more than one…?
This is the flower of the American beautyberry, which is another win/win plant for birds, bees and you!
Another important element for both butterflies and birds is dead trees and palm fronds. As Kirsten Hines notes in Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens, “Birds need dead trunks. Woodpeckers and other trunk-foraging birds search out insects lurking under dead trunk bark. Cavity-nesting birds use dead trunks for their nesting.”2
Leaving this dead palm up for birds like this Barn Owl to nest in is worth it, no? Learn more about how you can attract Barn Owls to your garden.
This tree is full of tasty treats for this Red-bellied Woodpecker to find. Read more about this magnificent creature.
Imagine the looks on your friends’ faces if you could brag that you have Zebras roosting on dead palm fronds in your garden. Untidy gardens can bring great beauty, wouldn’t you agree?
Another gorgeous shot by Michael Faisal Green. This Painted Bunting is guaranteed to knock your socks off, figuratively speaking.
Michael Faisal Green writes: Painted Buntings are quite shy birds. They do not have the natural inquisitiveness of Mockingbirds or Cardinals and will avoid open spaces and humans as much as possible. The outrageously-coloured males, perhaps aware of their colourful conspicuity, seem to be particularly reserved and are much less likely to be seen in the open than the females. For this reason, it is essential that any garden that wishes to attract them has plenty of shrubs and cover from which they can appear and disappear rapidly. Exclusively herbivorous, the best way to lure them into the open is with caged bird feeders stuffed with white millet. They seem to prefer approaching food from multiple perches, so regular, single perched feeders are not as attractive to them. Another important point worth noting is that birds are inured into a flock mentality and will always feel safer when there are more of them around. Attracting other birds to your garden — jays, woodpeckers and finches — will likely reassure birds that your habitat is safe. I have noticed that female buntings tend to shadow their larger cousins, female cardinals, and are more likely to be seen with them in gardens.
Here’s another view of the glorious male Painted Bunting, taken by Michael Faisal Green. This creature is surely worth saving by providing the seeds it needs. In addition to the feeder with white millet mentioned above, lots of native grasses provide seeds, in case you have a craving to see this bird in your garden. You can read up about these breathtaking birds.
There are many other bird species that visit South Florida gardens besides the ones mentioned in this post. The more insects, berries, and seed-bearing grasses you have, the more of them you’ll see. And now that you’re armed with all this information, and inspired to transform your garden into a paradise for you and wildlife, here are some native nurseries we recommend to get you started on your exciting new adventure!