The Violet Fern

A Colorful Tale of a Garden in the Making

There are Butterflies Here …

11 Comments

Why am I so surprised? Of course there are butterflies. It’s not (literally) freezing, there is sunshine for extra warmth, there are flowers for food. There is something absurdly wonderful walking with butterflies fluttering about in January for this Northern girl. I am fascinated by one in particular with bold yellow stripes and an exotic flair. I had to look it up on one of my favorite sites, Butterflies and Moths of North America, and discovered that what I am seeing is the Florida State Butterfly, a Zebra Longwing. A spectacular beauty! Reading up on them, I learned that Passion Vines (specifically Passiflora suberosa, P. lutea, P. affinis) are their host plant. There are plenty of vines here but none that I see in flower and I am not adept enough on Florida Flora & Fauna to recognize by leaves only. Oh, how I would love to see the beautiful blooms of Passion Vine! I tried to start some from seed last summer but they take months to germinate and I wasn’t patient enough. I think I will invest in a plant start this year. I also learned Shepherd’s Needle, Bidens Alba (check! plenty of that around) and Lantana (check! see that around, too) are their favorite foods. What’s interesting is that they forage on a route or “trapline” (trapline foraging). I spent weeks trying to capture a picture of one and had I known this interesting behavior I could have simply learned one of their routes. However, on a cooler day, I lucked out while visiting the Shell Mound, one rested long enough for me to aim and focus! I suppose in this pocket of sun the gravel-shell base felt warm.

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Zebra Longwing

The Shell Mound is one of the largest preserved on the West coast of Florida. It is literally, a shell mound, made up of discarded oyster and clam shells – the food source of the Eastern Woodland Indians.

View from the top of the Shell Mound

There are also Sulphur Butterflies that I have not managed to capture but there really isn’t any mistaking their beautiful color. Lantana – check! – is on their nectar list, too. Then there are also orange butterflies flitting about. At first I wasn’t sure what they were. One day I was able to get a closer look and confirm it with the flap of a wing – Gulf Fritillaries. Passion vines are also their choice of host, specifically Passiflora incarnata (my choice, too, to grow), and P. foetida. They also like nectar from Shepherd’s Needle and, yes, Lantana, as well as a few others. They aren’t as camera shy as those Longwings and lo and behold here is one on Shepherd’s Needle.

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But Fritillaries are not the only orangish butterflies here! There are MONARCHS! There are more Monarchs here than I’ve seen the past few years in my own garden up North. At first I thought, I must be mistaken, maybe these are Viceroys. But a real close view with my binoculars and it’s confirmed – honest to goodness Monarchs! (Learn to tell the difference between Viceroy and Monarch Butterflies). I am not sure how to look up or who to ask about them overwintering here. They aren’t in large numbers. Every now and then one just happily floats by. Here is one who posed for me on Goldenrod. They also will nectar on … you guessed it, Lantana! Lantana is a plant that all these butterflies share in common!

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There are plenty of Cedar trees here in Cedar Key, of course – perhaps a good night roost? I know I’ve read about Monarchs resting overnight in Cedar trees on their migration. “Often pine, fir and cedar trees are chosen for roosting. These trees have thick canopies that moderate the temperature and humidity at the roost site.”* I’ve also learned, to add to my surprise, from Butterflies and Moths of North America and a few other online sources that “A few overwinter along the Gulf coast or south Atlantic coast.” WELL, that’s where I am! Along the Gulf Coast! It is such a wonderful treat to see these beauties floating about. I wonder if people here find it extraordinary and special that Monarchs overwinter in Cedar Key? I sure do! It shouldn’t surprise me, Cedar Key is a special place immersed in nature. It is a very special place indeed.

*Source: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/Monarch_Butterfly/migration/index.shtml

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Author: Kathy Sturr

Author of the Violet Fern blog, artist, and master gardener.

11 thoughts on “There are Butterflies Here …

  1. I would say it is a very special place indeed! I can’t imagine seeing butterflies in January(long sigh)..you must be having a relaxing time chasing butterflies. My parents lived in Corpus Christi after my brother and I left home + I use to go visit. I remember early morning walks along the beach + shell collecting. The shells washing in were perfect- if you got out there early…a wonderland! Only footsteps were mine!
    Don’ t forget to come back:-)
    It always amazed me, how butterflies are colored or have patterns just a “little bit different” than our home butterflies + then you see one ( monarch) that is familiar–like a long lost friend!
    Thank you for sharing-great post!

    • Thanks Robbie! What a wonderful memory. I still have fond memories of Marco Island beach – so many shells and protected areas – also Puerto Vallarta! There is not a beach here per say but so many islands with little beaches – and very unpopulated. I love to be out there kayaking! I have a few shells I’ve collected. It is a joyous surprise to see butterflies – especially Monarchs. Crazy. I’ll be back – I cannot wait to be in my garden and I really want to get my pond put in this year! I am reading about Florida soil – so interesting! Myakka is the predominant type – a dark grey sand. I am curious as to how they compost here because nitrogen loss/stealing apparently is a concern since the soils are so sandy. Coir (your favorite and mine) is highly recommended as an amendment! I found a great magazine at the library “Florida Gardening” and checked out a few issues.

  2. We have sandy soil. But the plants seem to grow eagerly. I’ll be running the shrub prunings thru the chipper, and using that as mulch.

    • Well Diana, now I know who to converse with about soil when I start a Florida garden! I know you do something right because you have such beautiful gardens and I can’t wait to see your new one evolve.

  3. I, too, love butterflies and esp. monarchs. I’m so glad you’ve seen some. Here’s an interesting site that tracks migration. You can also post your sightings. http://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/monarch_spring2015.html

  4. Hi Kathy,

    You don’t know me but I feel I’m getting to know you vey well through The Violet Fern. I love everything you observe and write about. I’ll definitely add Cedar Key to my bucket list. I’m going to study butterflies and look forward to meeting you next summer when I return to Chaumont. We live in the Berkshires in Western Mass. in the winter and your touches of the southern climes are very welcome. Thanks for a great newsletter.

    Pandy Goodbody

    • Hi Pandy, nice to meet you virtually and hope to meet you this summer! I can’t wait to get back into my Northern garden – oh, but I can if it’s still cold! Ha ha. Cedar Key feels like home to me even though my home is in Clayton. I believe the Chaumont garden club toured my garden last year – maybe you and I have met? We used to travel through the Berkshires when we lived in Maine to get to NY – beautiful countryside!

  5. Pingback: Day 2 Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, Part 1 | The Violet Fern

  6. Kathy you certainly are in butterfly heaven there….a completely different world than here….so glad it has been an incredible experience for you!

Thank you for joining me in the making of my garden!

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