Attracting butterflies is as easy as planting a Butterfly garden.

It is always time to plant nectar and caterpillar food plants.  Sitting on a lounge chair watching butterflies is relaxing and fun.  You will laugh at the sight of several males chasing a female in frantic circles and dives.  Kids love to watch the caterpillars form a chrysalis and later emerge into a beautiful butterfly.

Even in a yard with no butterflies, you can gradually build up a nice population of several species in one to two years.  The trick to attracting butterflies is to plant the caterpillar food plants so that butterflies will multiply once they find you.  The most common butterflies in our area include the Zebra Longwing, Gulf Fritillary, Monarch, Queen, Giant Swallowtail and several Sulfurs. 

There are many other species that are less common yet are worth the extra effort to attract.  These include the Eastern Swallowtail, Ruddy Daggerwing, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Atala Hairstreak, Julia, Malachite, White Peacock, Florida Viceroy, Red Admiral, and many kinds of Hairstreaks, and Skippers.

I can count at least thirty to fifty individual butterflies of several species in my half acre front yard during the summer months. Do not ever purchase butterflies; you will be introducing diseases to your local population.  A planting containing the orange exotic milkweed will soon have Monarchs laying their eggs on it, although this is now controversial.  Most of the Cassias attract various Sulfurs and a wild lime tree will take the place of your citrus tree as a food for the Giant Swallowtail.  This plant is native to Florida and has nasty thorns, so be careful where you plant it. 

The book that I always bring on walks with my wife, Donna, is Butterflies through Binoculars.  This has great pictures, lists the caterpillar food sources and shows which parts of Florida each butterfly occurs in. And it’s only eight by five inches so you can carry it easily.  The North American Butterfly Association (NABA) has a local chapter with monthly meetings and field trips.  There are also conferences in Florida and other states that are a great way to meet interesting people. 

Food for the adult butterfly can be almost any native wildflower and some exotics.  The problem with many cultivated flowers is that they have been bred to have more petals at the expense of the nectar producing glands, pistil and pollen producing anthers. Native wildflowers include: Beach Verbena, Red Salvia, Goldenrod, Bloodberry, Silphium, Wild Sage, Firebush, Indian Blanket, Sunshine Mimosa, Ironweed, Dune Sunflower, Chapman’s Cassia, Pineland Petunia (not Mexican Petunia or Purple Shower which is invasive), Climbing Aster and many more.

Don’t be afraid to kill some grass and make a butterfly garden.  You will use less water than grass and will be surprised by the numbers of butterflies and birds, too, that are attracted to your yard.  Check out the list below for a match between butterfly and caterpillar food plant.  Also remember that butterfly caterpillars eat only certain plants and won’t eat your other garden plants unless these plants are in the same family that the caterpillar prefers.  Parsley and cabbages are food plants.

The following is a list of butterflies and their caterpillar food plants. Try mixing these plants with the tallest ones in back and the small in front. 
Monarch, Queen and Soldier-Milkweed; Eastern Black Swallowtail-Parsley; Sulfurs-Cassias; Giant Swallowtail-Citrus; Ruddy Daggerwing-Strangler Fig; White Peacock-Water Hyssop; Palamedes Swallowtail-Redbay; American Lady-Cudweed; Eastern Tiger Swallowtail-Sweetbay Magnolia; Red Admiral-False Nettle; Malachite-Shrimp Plant; Atala Hairstreak-Coontie; Florida Whites-Cabbage family; Buckeye-Snapdragon; Goldrim Swallowtail-Pipevine; Zebra Longwing, Gulf Fritillary, Julia-Passionvine; Tropical Checkered Skipper-Marsh Mallow; Many Skipper species-grasses.