5 Essential Nectar Source Plants for the Florida Butterfly Garden

Updated on February 5, 2018
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Nicole has a passion for pollinators: bees and butterflies. She enjoys sharing what she's learned about butterfly gardening with others.

The pipevine swallowtail loves to nectar from the salvia blooms.
The pipevine swallowtail loves to nectar from the salvia blooms. | Source

Starting a Butterfly Garden in Florida

Gardening is a simple joy held in high regard to many people. If you are looking to start a garden or expand your garden, why not start a butterfly garden? They are easy to maintain, bring color and joy to your life, and help the environment. It's a win-win-win, right?

If you live in Florida, starting your own butterfly garden is easy and will bring life to your yard in no time! When I first started my butterfly garden, I planted a few host plants and a few nectar source plants, and within a week's time butterflies were racing through my yard and all around my house. If you have kids, having a butterfly garden will entertain them in the spring and summer months, but it will also be educational. They can see a butterfly from all stages of life - they will see the eggs laid, the larva stage where the egg turns into a caterpillar, the caterpillar cocoon itself into its pupa stage, and then the adult butterfly emerge. You can't get this kind of a lesson in such detail and personal experience in a normal classroom.

What is a nectar source? A nectar source is a flower that the butterflies will use as their food source. You'll want to have a range of different size and color of flowers to draw different butterflies to your yard. If you've already added host plants in your garden, this is the next important step. To keep the butterflies returning to your garden, keep host plants and nectar source plants year-round.

1. Salvia

Salvia is a genus of plants in the mint family. The most commonly known is culinary sage, used in cooking and commonly grown in herb gardens. There are many types of salvia, and I've found the Blue Hill and Victoria Blue species are the ones that attract the attention of monarchs and other butterflies, if grown in the garden. Salvia can be a perennial or an annual, depending on the type, but it is easy to grow. It prefers some shade but does well in the sun, and likes to have a moist soil bedding.

Salvia isn't only pretty to look at, it is a nectar source for butterflies (like the monarch) and honeybees. I first took notice of this plant at a Lowe's garden center. It was the only batch of flowers loaded with honeybees and monarchs. You'll want this showy flower in your yard to feed the pollinators!

2. Spanish Needles

You might have seen this "weed" before. In fact, you probably don't have to purposely grow it at all! Spanish needles are a wildflower, commonly called a weed and sprayed with pesticide, that grows rampant in Florida. You can find them in your yard, I guarantee it! The great thing about Spanish needles? They are a huge nectar source for Florida's honeybees, but they are also a host plant for Florida butterflies. These butterflies include the dainty sulphur butterfly and Florida duskywing butterfly. It is also a host plant for the emerald moth. Butterflies do enjoy the nectar from this wildflower, as well.

Spanish needles, often called Shepherd's needles, are often pulled up or sprayed with pesticide. If you notice these in your garden or yard, don't kill them! You will keep the butterflies and bees happy and fed. And the best part? There are zero maintenance and will re-seed themselves.

Spanish needles are an important nectar source for bees and butterflies, and it is also a host plant for butterflies in Florida.
Spanish needles are an important nectar source for bees and butterflies, and it is also a host plant for butterflies in Florida. | Source

3. Cosmos

A friend of mine who is an avid gardener and has a passion for the pollinators turned me on to the beautiful, bright world of cosmos. Cosmos are in the sunflower family, and are seen everywhere from Mexico into the United States. They are mostly annual flowers, blooming from Spring until late Summer in Florida, but I've seen them growing into the Fall season too. They range in color from pink, to white, to orange and yellow and more!

Cosmos are easy to grow, you can even throw the seeds onto open soil and watch them pop up in a few weeks' time! They grow as tall as 7 feet, depending on the species, and will re-seed themselves so that you have them pop up in your garden every Spring, year after year! They are low maintenance, prefer lots of sun, and are a favorite of the butterflies. Be sure to grab some cosmo seeds this year and grow them in your Florida butterfly garden.

Cosmos are a bright and fun addition to your butterfly garden and serve as a nectar source.
Cosmos are a bright and fun addition to your butterfly garden and serve as a nectar source. | Source

4. Pentas

Not only do the monarchs love them, so do the gulf fritillary butterflies. And they are...pentas! Also known as Egyptian star clusters, these flowers are easy to grow in your Florida butterfly garden and attract butterflies of various kinds. Pentas come in a beautiful array of colors - my favorite being the deep reds and pinks. While these flowers are not native, they are drought-tolerant and do well in full sun.

If you're lucky enough, your pentas won't just feed the butterflies, they might also attract hummingbirds! Plant your pentas anywhere in your garden and yard and watch the butterflies rest and feed, happily. Best part about these flowers? They are hardy and are perennials, so you don't have to keep planting them year after year. Not to mention, they are fairly pest-resistant, only succumbing to the power of spider mites.

5. Zinnias

What bright, cheery flower must you add to your Florida butterfly garden? Zinnias, of course! Zinnias are annual flowers in the sunflower/daisy family, so it's no wonder they are colorful and are sure to put a smile on your face! Native to Mexico, South America, and some parts of Southwestern U.S., they are easy to grow in the Florida butterfly garden as they can withstand and prefer lots of sun. Once you've planted your seeds and got your plants established, they are low maintenance and require little watering or pampering.

The butterflies and bees are attracted to zinnias, including monarchs. Zinnias grow quickly, so if you plant in early spring, you'll have flowers in Spring. Much quicker than many other flowers in the butterfly garden grown from seed. Colors are in every variety, except for blue. My personal favorites are the bright pinks and oranges. Grow zinnias in your Florida butterfly garden, and you'll want to plant them year after year. And the butterflies will thank you for it!

Zinnias are a beautiful, bright addition to the Florida butterfly garden and are a wonderful nectar source.
Zinnias are a beautiful, bright addition to the Florida butterfly garden and are a wonderful nectar source. | Source

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    © 2018 Nicole Canfield

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    • kittythedreamer profile image
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      Nicole Canfield 5 weeks ago from the Ether

      Peggy - Yes, I've heard this from other Texan gardeners too! Thanks for reading!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      We can grow many of the same things here in Houston as in Florida. Butterflies seem to like my gardening efforts which is nice.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 2 months ago from Ohio

      Butterfly gardens are wonderful to have and easy to keep. These plants are all so beautiful! I'm sure they will work here in Ohio also.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James-MizBejabbers 2 months ago

      Nicole, all of these plants are beautiful, and most of them will grow in Zone 8 where I live. I keep trying to add more as we expand our plant beds. My mother always had a bed that contained zinnas, among her other favorites. I love my pineapple sage (I think I've told you that before.) I actually purchased a sheet especially to cover the large tree pot I have the pineapple sage growing in. It dies back in winter, but sometimes the roots die also. It is my favorite butterfly and hummingbird plant.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 months ago from Chicago Area

      A friend of mine just moved to Florida. So when I visit, I'll look for some of these plants... and hope to see some of these lovely butterflies.

      In the Chicago area, I've noticed that some summers we have more butterflies than others. But they're always wonderful when spotted. I love zinnias and many of my neighbors grow them. So I'll look for them there.

      Thanks for sharing!

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