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!
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!
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!