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 with 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. You can email him at email@example.com to get on his mailing list and to place an order. Francys Gomez, the Butterfly Guru, also delivers plants. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read about more plants we recommend, check out these posts: Create a Nursery Filled with Bugs for Baby Birds; Attract Butterflies, Birds, and Bees to your Garden with a Hedgepodge; and Saving Birds with a Butterfly Garden.
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:
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.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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
The luscious berries of the native Shiny-leaf wild coffee attract a variety of 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!
Last but not least, you can check out Bound by Beauty's page on how to bring butterflies to your garden.
1Douglas W. Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Timber Press, Portland, London), 25.
2 James A. Kushlan and Kirsten Hines, Attracting Birds to South Florida Gardens (University Press of Florida), 29.
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!
December 7, 2017
I love butterflies. Who doesn’t, right? But I never thought much about their night-time counterpart, the moth.
That was until the day that my husband discovered a flower that would change my outlook on moths entirely.
Up until then, I thought moths were okay. If butterflies are like your cool, world-travelling friend with the fabulous wardrobe, moths are like that friend’s old college roommate, Janet—who is a dentist and lives in the suburbs and wears a lot of brown. Janet is nice. She’s fine. But you never think to invite Janet to any parties. Janet is okay.
I knew that moths are pollinators, too and so, yes, also important. The how and why was fuzzy. I didn’t have for them anywhere near the awe and adoration I have for butterflies. Sorry, Janet.
So here’s what changed…I can be long-winded, so just settle in 😉.
A few months ago, my husband and I bought our first house. When we first went to see it, I thought the house itself was cute enough, but small and not at all the charming Old Spanish bungalow I had envisioned. Then we walked into the backyard…and found paradise. We fell in love with the lush canopy of fruit trees and swaying palms. And as we stood there, mesmerized by dappled sunlight and drunk off the breeze, we realized we already felt we were home.
We bought the little house from a man with kind eyes named Tom, who told us it had only ever been owned by his family and it’s where his mom lived until she died. Her name was Nadine. I learned from a neighbor later on that Nadine once had a beautiful garden that, sadly, became overgrown and eventually was mowed over when she was too old to care for it. I also learned that she loved to collect orchids and would plant them on the marvelously gnarled bottlebrush tree right outside what would become our bedroom window. Of course we noticed the orchid leaves hidden beneath and between ferns, air plants, and myriad invasives. But we had no idea when or if they’d ever bloom. We also had no idea how many there really were and how truly spectacular a show we would enjoy over the next few months.
One day, an orchid, one of Nadine’s Gifts—as I’ve affectionately started to call them—caught my husband’s eye and he called me out in a happy fluster as he’d done many times since we moved in. Nadine’s Gifts, we would learn, were resilient and neither neglect nor blade could defeat them—but that’s a tangent for another time.
On the bottlebrush tree my husband had found a pair of small white flowers, each about the width of a quarter—they looked like mini calla lilies. Neither of us had ever seen an orchid that looked like that before, so I submitted a photo to my plant ID group and hoped someone would know. And, of course, they did (they the bomb). Brassavola nosossa, Lady of the Night, she was called. Some furious Googlin’ later and I learned that she is fragrant, but only at night. It turns out, that’s when she gets nice and smelly in hopes some dark and handsome moth will come and give her a good pollinating (honey, don’t we all???).
We resolved to run out and catch the show at nightfall.
In the moonlight, the pale little flowers of the plant were brilliant against the dull bark of the tree. She was dazzling. We leaned in and inhaled expectantly. Jasmine? No, more gardenia…some citrus, maybe? But with a delicate musk and somehow melancholy...like losing yourself in a love song—by Adele.
There she was, a perfumed mistress calling to her lover in the darkness. Beautiful and in lonely waiting for her beloved moth-suitor to find her. (Super sexy, right???) Suddenly the night was gorgeous and mysterious, and an insatiable curiosity as vast as the stars welled up me: This is one flower calling out in the long dream of night…but what other wonders unfold when the kingdom of the sun retires? What other wanton winged-ones go around pollinating expectant petals? (Look, Janet! You are redeemed!)
Over the next few weeks (or so. Not sure how long. I don’t want to over-commit.) I’ll take you on an educational cabaret of the natural world’s night-time delights and its mysterious staffers: The Night Workers. The Moonlighters. Pollinators & Pistils: A Bed Time Story…I will work on the title of the series.
Next week (or thereabouts): Moths—Who is Janet & What is She Good For? (Also a work in progress. The writing will get better. Promise.)
Jen Llerena lives in Miami Springs with her four cats who she will often describe as terrible people, her beleaguered dog and her very patient husband. She likes to play outside with plants and butterflies and is sometimes socially awkward. But she’s a snappy dresser, so no one minds. Jen works in a field entirely unrelated to butterflies, but she makes up for that with wine. Oh, and she’s part of Bound by Beauty.
Bound by Beauty connected recently with Jennifer Possley and Peter Vrotsos, both of whom are involved in Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden's Connect to Protect Network, which seeks to protect the critically endangered pine rockland habitats of South Florida. We met them at Fairchild's nursery on a day of threatening skies and downpours, to pick up Bound by Beauty's five native pine rockland plants, which include host plants for butterflies, as well as plants that provide food for butterflies and other wildlife, and 10 pine rockland plants for the Miami Shores Community Church school's community garden. Read more about this very important effort to save pine rockland species, and learn how you can become a member of the network and receive your own native plants here. We will be scheduling a planting at the school soon, so stay tuned!
Bound by Beauty teamed up with the AT&T Pioneers, the Girl Scouts of Troop 1305, members of the Miami Shores Community Church, and friends and neighbors in Miami Shores, to create a magical community butterfly habitat and the beginnings of a pine rockland, in an overlooked, grassy area of the church next to the school.
We began last Thursday, one of the hottest days of the year, by carving up the beds. This might sound simple and straightforward, but St. Augustine grass has a tenacious grip on the earth, and is loathe to let go. For those of us engaged in the fight against climate change, ripping out St. Augustine grass is a apt metaphor for the struggle to replace the unhealthy with the healthy, in order to heal our planet.
One after another, our weed wackers failed in their attempt to cut through the tough leaves and roots of the grass. James Ard, a friend of nature who lives up the street, showed up in the nick of time with his powerful gas-powered edger, which one of the Pioneers employed to good purpose, while the rest of us used hoes and rakes to remove the remnants of the grass, which we piled up in another bed where the pine rockland habitat will be created. We almost finished the job, but the extreme heat leading to tomato-red faces dictated our temporary withdrawal.
Saturday, the day dawned bright and sunny, but a nice breeze off Biscayne Bay, along with lemonade and snacks provided by the Girl Scouts, provided some comfort to those who returned to finish the job. After removing the last remnants of St. Augustine grass, the crew got to work smoothing out the butterfly meadow planting bed, while others got to work labeling each plant and wetting down the future pine rockland and covering it with a plastic tarp in order to solarize it over the next few weeks. The wet soil will conduct the heat of the sun and kill the grass and other weeds (nb: we now recommend piling up layers of newspaper and cardboard, which will eventually turn into compost rather than killing beneficial soil organisms). The Girl Scouts covered the ungainly plastic-wrapped pile with gaily colored butterflies, caterpillars, and a sign indicating its future use.
When the butterfly meadow bed was raked smooth, Bound by Beauty placed the potted plants in their assigned location, educating those gathered on the purpose of each plant, while the Pioneers and other volunteers began digging holes and adding some homemade compost.
Then the leaves donated by numerous members of the community were added to the bed to the depth of a couple of inches, followed by one inch of natural eucalyptus mulch, to mollify those who don't believe that leaves should be used as mulch ;-).
The final task was to thoroughly water the new plants, and to place a temporary fencing around the meadow to ensure it survives recess!
Here is a list of the plants that went into creating this butterfly meadow:
Many thanks to Pastor Meg Watson and the Miami Shores Community Church, the AT&T Pioneers, the Girl Scouts of Troop 1305 (and their mothers!), James Ard (who schlepped the plants up from Homestead and lent us his powerful edger in the nick of time), and members of the community who donated their time, their labor, their leaves, and their rocks!
To be continued......