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The Rebel Botanists Gang aka The RBG

Opening people’s minds to the need to protect the beautiful and important biodiversity of the nature under our noses.

The Rebel Botanists Gang was formed due to a revelation: we could use a rather dry document entitled “Some Lawn Weeds of South Florida and The Butterflies that Use Them”, created in 2014 by Steve Woodmansee of Pro Native Consulting, to open people’s eyes to the importance of these plants through fun and educational activities.  Once eyes are opened, their minds will follow with the need to protect this biodiversity.  We were inspired by the amateur botanists in this video who did something very similar in England.

However, we had a special trick up our sleeve that the women in the video lacked:  a “hook” in the form of butterflies.  We figured if people understood that these “lawn weeds” in fact served a valuable role in the ecosystem of feeding butterfly caterpillars and, in some cases, pollinators, they would be less likely to grab the herbicide the next time they encountered a weed in their lawn.

As artist Kim Heise's beautiful watercolor of Fogfruit attests, one lawn weed can host many butterfly caterpillars, and provide nectar for pollinators as well.

We devised a series of fun and educational activities to open people’s eyes to the importance of these plants in the ecosystem and the need to maintain biodiversity, even in a lawn.

  • Sidewalk chalk drawings and pink butterfly flags:
Drawn in chalk by Corinne Mariposa of Miami Seed Share to educate passersby to the native pellitory growing in the grass nearby, marked by the pink flag. Pellitory is a host plant for the Red Admiral butterfly.
  • A swale celebration
Lots of members of the community came out to learn about these wild plants, and to celebrate being together  -- safely -- after the long lockdown.
Kids, young and not so young, were given chalk to draw pictures of the butterflies that need these plants to survive.
  • A safari in an elementary school parking lot: we use hand lenses instead of telephoto lenses used in a typical safari.  We looked for native wild plants with such fun names as Frogfruit, Cheesytoes, and Spanish needle, all of which host butterflies, offer nectar for pollinators, and provide a whole host of other benefits in the ecosystem.
Checking out the Frogfruit with hand lenses.  Frogfuit hosts four different butterfly species.
The students were given chalk boards so they could draw what they saw. None of them had ever seen a chalkboard and they were joking about what apps were downloaded on them
  • A field guide

We are collaborating with artist Kim Heise to create a field guide to these plants.  Her role is to create portraits of the native wild plants that host butterflies, some of which are endangered.  The non-native plants and the invasive species will be photographed rather than painted. 

This field guide, when completed, will:

  • enable kids to go out on hunts for these plants in their own gardens and create chalk drawings on nearby sidewalks of those they find in order to educate passersby.
  • encourage parents and kids to search for these plants when they go for walks in their neighborhood.
  • offer teachers a fun and educational opportunity to get their students outside learning about the nature under our noses.

In short, these guides will inspire people to get outside to learn about our ecosystem and the beautiful and important biodiversity that surrounds us – and upon which we depend -- if we only take the time to look.  And, at the end of the day, who is going to want to apply deadly poison to plants that enable butterflies to survive?

This is Kim Heise’s beautiful portrait of Bidens alba aka Spanish needle, which hosts the lovely little Dainty sulphur butterfly and is one of the best nectar plants around. She says she feels like she is on a scavenger hunt, having great fun searching for these plants in the wild.

Speaking of scavenger hunts…

We almost had one for spring break campers at a nearby park, but the Covid pandemic was still too present.  We hope to do so in the future, using our field guide, butterfly cards, and pink butterfly flags to arm the kids in their hunt for wild plants.  Those who find the most in a given time period will be given Marc Minno’s wonderful ID Guide to Butterflies of Southeast Florida.

Doesn’t this make you want to discover the nature under your nose? 
Who knows what special plants you will find and what fun you will have in finding them?

We couldn't do what we do without the generous support of organizations like the Miami Shores Community Alliance and members of our community. 

We are currently designing our Butterfly Circle Project which will transform butterfly gardening throughout South Florida!

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