By Nancy Richie – NRichie@cityofmarcoisland.com
Florida, originally called “La Florida” or “flowery land” by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513, is home to an amazing and impressive array of wildflowers and butterflies. Florida is known for many unique characteristics such as having the longest contiguous coastline in the lower 50 states (1,197 miles), the only State to have two oceanic borders (Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean) and, of course, the famous Everglades. But it is the vast and diverse number of native plant and butterfly species that really are the most spectacular characteristics for year- round residents and visitors alike to simply enjoy.
There are seven major ecosystems recognized in Florida, with as many as 82 distinct natural plant and animal communities. The state’s very flat landscape has minor elevation changes throughout the peninsula and surprisingly, the water, or lack of water, determines the extreme changes to plant and animal species in a particular habitat. Examples on Marco Island include the mangrove habitat fringing Barfield Bay compared to the sandy, scrub habitat of the Estates area of the island. Diversity of species is also due to the geographic location of Florida, allowing temperate and semi-tropical climates for wildflower and butterfly species to thrive. And thrive they do; with approximately 2,800 native plant species and more than 180 butterfly species documented.
Living in Florida, the opportunity to invite beautiful butterflies in your yard is simple. Go native! How? Just plant native flowering plants, including nectar plants for adult butterflies and host plants for the larvae. Butterflies have four life stages: egg, larvae (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) and adult (winged butterfly). By planting host plants for the larvae and adults, food is provided for the pupa to eat, grow, and create the chrysalis then morph to a butterfly. Providing the plants to host the adult butterfly enables the butterfly to stay in your yard for your pleasure. The official Florida state butterfly, the Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius) is found throughout the state and can live for several months. The adult will lay small yellow eggs on the young leaves and tendrils of the Purple Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and produce numerous generations each year. The City’s Calusa Park on Winterberry Drive has an established butterfly garden designed and maintained by the Beautification Advisory Committee. Purple Passionflower is planted there as a major larvae food source. The beautiful and tropical Coontie plant (Zamia pumila), used in Florida Friendly Landscape (FFL) designs such as the demonstration garden at City Hall (50 Bald Eagle Drive), is host to the endangered Atala (Eumaeus atala) butterfly. It also is drought tolerant and does not require any maintenance.
No need to re-landscape your entire yard; start with a small area or bed and plant four or five native flowering plants to attract butterflies and feed larvae, too. Your butterfly garden should have full sun as well as partial shade; plants that bloom at variable times; plants that have different heights, flower colors, shapes and sizes; and a water source should be nearby for adult butterflies (a bowl, fountain or small pond). These guidelines will attract a diversity of butterfly species providing you enjoyment as they flit and fly through the yard. A simple example list of native plant species for your Marco Island yard could be: Porter Weed, Milkweed, Purple Passionflower, Firebush, Coreopsis (state wildflower) or Wild Coffee. For more information about Florida native wildflowers and butterflies, visit http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/wildflower.
Marco Island is one of the many jewels of “La Florida”. To celebrate this fact, this month the City of Marco Island’s Beautification Advisory Committee is promoting the beauty and extravagant flowers that bloom on our island with the “Marco In Bloom” contest. Entries are judged for the use of native or Florida Friendly Landscape (FFL) plants, water conservation, use of diverse species and flowering plant colors, visibility from the street and creative landscape design. The six award categories include residential properties that are professionally landscaped, residential properties landscaped by the homeowner, condominium, commercial, cul-de-sac and industrial. To enter your own property or nominate a property, entry forms can be found at Mackle Park (1361 Andalusia Drive) or at City Hall (50 Bald Eagle Drive) and also can be downloaded at www.cityofmarcoisland.com. For more information, please call Patty Mastronardi at Mackle Park at 239-389-5035. The entry deadline is March 20, 2013. Category winners will be announced April 1, 2013 at the City Council meeting.
Ponce de Leon got it perfectly correct when he named this beautiful state “La Florida”! Let’s go native and keep Marco Island blooming!
For any additional information please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island at 239-389-5003 or firstname.lastname@example.org