Florida butterflies: Zebra butterflies

South Florida butterflies: How to attract them to your garden

Welcome to the vibrant world of Florida butterflies, where gardens come alive with color, movement, and the delicate flutter of wings. Whether you're a seasoned gardener or just starting out, learning about the diverse species of Florida butterflies and the best plants to attract them can transform your outdoor space into a butterfly paradise

Let's dive into the enchanting world of these fluttering beauties and discover how to create a haven for them right in your Miami garden.

Florida butterflies: Panama rose

Panama rose

The magic of Florida butterflies

Butterflies are more than just pretty pollinators; they play a crucial role in the ecosystem as well as doing wonders for our wellbeing. Their presence indicates a healthy environment and they help pollinate many of the plants we rely on. In South Florida, we’re blessed with a unique climate that allows us to attract a wide variety of butterfly species. By understanding their needs and preferences, you can create a garden that not only attracts but also supports these beautiful creatures throughout their lifecycle.

Florida butterflies: Monarch nectaring on penta

Monarch nectaring on penta

Nectar plants: A butterfly's best friend

To attract Florida butterflies to your garden, the first step is to plant a variety of nectar flowers. These plants provide the essential food source that adult butterflies need. Here are some fantastic choices for your garden:

  • Heirloom pentas: These vibrant flowers are butterfly magnets, providing ample nectar.
  • Porter weed: Known for its beautiful purple spikes, porter weed is a favorite among many butterfly species.
  • Panama rose: This shrub's clusters of tiny, fragrant flowers are a hit with butterflies.
  • Ruellia: Also known as wild petunia, ruellia flowers are particularly beloved by skippers.
  • Spanish needle: Despite being considered a weed by some, this plant's small white flowers are rich in nectar.
  • Lantana: Available in a variety of colors, lantana is a hardy plant that butterflies can't resist.
  • Tickseed: The bright yellow flowers of tickseed are a cheerful addition to any garden.
  • Jatropha: This plant offers clusters of red flowers that attract butterflies throughout the year.
  • Fire bush: With its bright red-orange flowers, fire bush is a showstopper that butterflies adore.
Florida butterflies: Monarch resting on ruellia

Monarch resting on ruellia

Butterfly species and their host plants

To truly support Florida butterflies, it's important to include host plants (or larval plants) in your garden. These plants provide the necessary food for caterpillars, ensuring that butterflies can complete their lifecycle. Let's take a closer look at some common South Florida butterfly species and their preferred host plants.

Giant swallowtail

The giant swallowtail is one of the largest and most graceful butterflies you can attract. Their larval plants are members of the citrus family, so if you have citrus trees or shrubs, you're in luck! These majestic butterflies will grace your garden with their elegant presence.

Florida butterflies: Giant swallowtail nectaring on penta

Giant swallowtail nectaring on penta


Monarch butterflies are famous for their incredible migration, but did you know they sometimes sleep at night while mating? Their larval plant is milkweed, which is essential for their survival. Planting milkweed in your garden will help support the monarch population and provide you with the joy of watching these stunning creatures.

Florida butterflies: Monarch nectaring on porterweed

Monarch nectaring on porterweed


The zebra butterfly, Florida's state butterfly, has a unique behavior of roosting in groups. They prefer to roost in a single spot, like a tree or bamboo, where they all hang together. Their larval plant is passion vine, so adding this to your garden will attract these social butterflies.

Florida butterflies: Zebra butterflies

Zebra butterflies

Painted lady

The painted lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui, is a cosmopolitan species found across the globe. They’re easy to attract and will add a splash of color to your garden. 


Skippers are small, quick-flying butterflies that love to nectar on ruellia flowers. Their larval plants are members of the legume family. Planting legumes alongside ruellia will make your garden a haven for these speedy butterflies.

Florida butterflies: Skipper on a rose

Skipper on a rose

White peacock

The white peacock butterfly is a common sight in South Florida. Their larval plants are wild petunia and water hyssop. These plants will not only attract white peacocks but also provide a lush, green backdrop for your garden.


Hairstreak butterflies are small but stunning, with their delicate tails resembling tiny hairs. Their larval plants include clover, partridge pea, and beggar weeds. Incorporating these plants into your garden will attract hairstreaks and add a touch of elegance.

Florida butterflies: Sulphur caterpillar and hairstreak butterfly

Sulphur caterpillar and hairstreak butterfly

Miami blue

The Miami blue butterfly is a rare and endangered species, making it a special guest in any garden. Their larval plants include acacia, nickerbean, and other members of the pea family. By planting these, you can help support the recovery of this delicate butterfly.


Sulphur butterflies are known for their bright yellow color. Their larval plants are cassia species, which are easy to grow in the Florida climate. Adding cassia to your garden will ensure a steady stream of these sunny butterflies.

Florida butterflies: Sulphur butterfly on firespike

Sulphur butterfly on firespike


The Julia butterfly is a striking orange beauty. Their larval plant is passion vine, the same as the zebra butterfly. Adding passion vine to your garden will not only attract Julias but also provide a haven for zebras and gulf fritillaries.

Florida butterflies: Julia butterflies resting

Julia butterflies resting


The atala butterfly is an endangered species with striking blue and black wings. Their larval plant is coontie, a native Florida plant. By planting coontie, you can provide crucial support to the atala population and enjoy their unique beauty.

Gulf fritillary

The Gulf fritillary butterfly is known for its bright orange wings with black spots. Like the Julia and zebra butterflies, their larval plant is passion vine. This makes passion vine an essential plant for any butterfly-friendly garden.

Florida butterflies: Gulf fritillary

Gulf fritillary

Gold rimmed swallowtail

Gold rimmed swallowtails are elegant butterflies that never stop moving their wings while nectaring. Their larval plant is pipevine. Including pipevine in your garden will attract these constantly fluttering beauties.

Florida butterflies: Gold rimmed swallowtail laying eggs on pipevine

Gold rimmed swallowtail laying eggs on pipevine

Eastern black swallowtail

The eastern black swallowtail is a stunning butterfly with black wings and colorful spots. Their larval plants include parsley and dill. Planting these herbs will not only enhance your culinary garden but also attract these lovely butterflies.

Great southern white

The great southern white butterfly is often called the cabbage white butterfly because of its love for cabbage plants. Their larval plants belong to the mustard family. Planting mustard greens or other brassicas will attract these butterflies.

Florida butterflies: Southern white

Southern white

Queen butterfly

Queen butterflies are closely related to monarchs and share their preference for milkweed as a larval plant. Planting milkweed will not only support monarchs but also attract queen butterflies, adding regal beauty to your garden.

Ruddy daggerwing

The ruddy daggerwing butterfly is a unique addition to any South Florida garden. Its host plant is the strangler fig ficus, a native tree that supports this butterfly's lifecycle. After a rain, you might find ruddy daggerwings sipping from little puddle pools, a charming sight that adds to the magic of your butterfly haven.

Florida butterflies: Firespike and pipevine

Firespike and pipevine

Designing your butterfly garden

Creating a butterfly garden in South Florida involves more than just planting the right flowers and host plants. Here are some tips to turn your garden into a butterfly haven.

Provide a variety of plants

Butterflies need different plants for different stages of their lifecycle. By including a variety of nectar flowers and host plants, you can support butterflies from egg to adult.

Plan for continuous blooms

Butterflies need nectar throughout the year, so plan your garden to have flowers blooming in different seasons. This ensures there’s always a food source available.

Create sheltered areas

Butterflies need protection from strong winds and predators. Planting shrubs, trees, or tall grasses can provide the shelter they need.

Florida butterflies: Gold rimmed swallowtail larvae

Gold rimmed swallowtail larvae

Provide water sources

Butterflies often drink from shallow puddles or damp soil. You can create a butterfly-friendly water source by placing a shallow dish filled with water and some stones in your garden.

Avoid pesticides

Pesticides can harm butterflies and their larvae. Opt for natural pest control methods and avoid using chemicals in your butterfly garden.

Enjoy the process

Creating a butterfly garden is a rewarding experience that connects you with nature. Take the time to observe the butterflies, learn about their behaviors, and enjoy the beauty they bring to your garden.

Florida butterflies: Gulf fritillary on panama rose

Gulf fritillary on panama rose

A sustainable butterfly paradise

Attracting Florida butterflies to your garden is a delightful and fulfilling endeavor. By planting the right nectar flowers and host plants, you can create a vibrant and sustainable environment for these beautiful creatures. Whether you're in the heart of Miami or anywhere else in South Florida, your garden can become a sanctuary for butterflies, enriching both your life and the local ecosystem. 

So, grab your gardening gloves, pick out some butterfly-friendly plants, and start transforming your garden into a butterfly paradise today!

Need some expert guidance on how to plant your own garden to attract those beautiful Florida butterflies? Get in touch with Brent, Miami’s ‘butterfly man’!  

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