Create your own Foster Butterfly Garden Group

Join forces with neighbors to save butterfly caterpillars and their host plants

The most magical aspect of a butterfly garden is being able to watch the process of metamorphosis, from the egg laid by the female, through the caterpillar instars and their mesmerizing munching, to the miraculous appearance of the pupa, the formation of the chrysalis and the emergence of the beautiful adult butterfly. However, that process can be disrupted if the hungry caterpillars run out of their host plant and have no more food to eat. What is a butterfly gardener to do?

Where'd all the milkweed go?

We at Bound by Beauty came up with a solution that helps keep butterfly caterpillars from starving, and their host plants from being decimated: we created a Foster Butterfly Garden program. Our Foster Butterfly Garden program began with a few connections between nearby neighbors and farther away friends, with gardeners reaching out through texts, phone calls, and emails. As our network of gardens began to grow, we knew we had to come up with a better way. Facebook seemed like the best option, so we started Bound by Beauty’s Foster Butterfly Gardeners of South Florida. If you live in South Florida, you can join:

Creating connections between gardeners and gardens

Creating this Butterfly Foster Garden program has led to lots of wonderful connections. We resupplied the Friends of Oleta River State Park and their butterfly garden with Atala caterpillars after Tropical Storm Irma wiped out their colony. Likewise, we helped restart the Atala population at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens after the same storm event. We even threw in some Zebra caterpillars for good measure!

Delivering a container full of Atala caterpillars to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
These Zebra butterfly caterpillars helped restart Vizcaya's population after Irma wiped them out.

How to start your own foster butterfly garden group

  1. Create a Facebook group and advertise it in local FB pages and groups, or even a regional one where butterfly lovers gather.  One of the most frequent complaints you read on butterfly groups is that the gardener has run out of host plants, so you’ll likely get lots of interest.  
  2. Create a group on Nextdoor, which has the advantage of being more local and more neighbors are likely to be on Nextdoor than Facebook.  Advertise as above.
  3. Create a WhatsApp chat group.    

While we believe in personal responsibility in doing everything you can to ensure you have sufficient host plants, it isn’t always possible to predict when the garden will be hit with a wave of caterpillars.  The more local your group is the better, as you can more easily reach another garden that has plentiful host plants, or fellow butterfly gardeners who can direct you to the nearest nursery or big box store where they saw the host plant for sale recently.

One note of caution

Please let people know about any diseases that are prevalent in your neighborhood and caution people about transferring potentially in caterpillars to another garden, thereby spreading the disease. For example, the OE parasite is a common problem in South Florida with our year around Monarch butterfly population and it is easily spread by butterflies and caterpillars.

Creating connections between butterfly gardens — and between the gardeners themselves — is a win for nature and a win for humans.  Saving butterfly caterpillars and their host plants while meeting kindred spirits is a very happy-making thing to do!

Showing a neighbor child how to transfer Pipevine swallowtails who have gobbled up all their host plant, to a Dutchman's pipevine with plentiful leaves in a neighbor's garden.
Especially in a pandemic, exchanging the precious gift of Atala caterpillars from one garden that has too many, to another from which they'd disappeared, is a wonderful way to connect with neighbors and keep our community beautiful.


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