This is the second installment in my 10-part series on Butterfly Gardening in Florida. This time we’re going to focus on the Heliconia genus of butterflies, which includes the Zebra Longwing (Zebra), Florida’s state butterfly; the Julia; and the Gulf Fritillary.
Let’s begin with the Zebra butterfly, also known as the social butterfly. It travels great distances during the day for néctar, but always returns to the same place at night to roost. Zebras commonly roost together in large numbers, which is why they’re nicknamed social butterflies. While hanging motionless, they are vulnerable. To discourage predators at night, they emit a foul odor. Zebra butterflies have a longer lifespan than other butterflies, as long as six months, versus only a few weeks for most butterflies.
It is a thing of beauty to watch a Zebra butterfly fly. It appears to gently float from side to side. When bothered, however, a Zebra takes off like a jet plane. It is black with yellow stripes, which appear white from its underside. A Zebra’s larva is white with black dots. It also has black, fierce-looking spines, which are actually very soft. A Zebra’s chrysalis is unique because it features four tiny gold window-like panes in the center.
The next butterfly in the Heliconia group is the brilliant orange Julia, also known as the Orange Longwing. As is common in nature,male butterflies have more vibrant colors than females. Like the Zebra, the Julia is a warm-weather butterfly and does not migrate north. Its chrysalis is very similar to the Zebra’s, except it lacks the gold window-like panes. Its larva is brown with white dots and a light-colored head. The chrysalis of a Julia butterfly looks like an old twig or dead leaf, which is very beneficial at this vulnerable stage.
The last butterfly in the Heliconia group is the Gulf Fritillary. It is orange as well with silver markings on its top, bottom, and especially, its underside. The Gulf Fritillary is easy to distinguish from other members of the Heliconia group, as its wings are smaller and more rounded than the Zebra or Julia butterflies, which have long, narrow wings. The Gulf Fritillary looks more like a traditional butterfly.
Unlike the Zebra and Julia butterflies, it does not feed on nectar. The Gulf Fritillary is very abundant in the Gulf region and especially here in Naples. Its larva is orange with black stripes, and also has those seemingly fierce-looking black spines. A Gulf Fritillary’s chrysalis also resembles an old twig or dead leaf, which once again proves advantageous in keeping a low profile amongst predators.
There is one thing all three of these butterflies have in common, and that is their love for Passion flower. If you want thistrio to make appearances in your garden, just plant Passion flower. Remember, Passion vines grow with a passion, literally, so give them lots of room. Any Passion flower will do, but I’ve had very good luck with Suberosa, (small greenish, white flowers); Incense (blueish purple); and Lady Margaret (maroon color). Interesting fact, there are several compounds in Passion flower that are toxic, so after larvae and butterflies ingest it, they are toxic to their predators.
Watch for my next Butterfly Gardening in Florida installment, where I’ll cover.…
Until then, KEEP BUTTERFLYING!!!
Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. A Collier County Master Gardener, he has written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted and designed numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or visit his website, www.naplesbutterfly.com. He also can be heard every Saturday at 4 PM on his call-in garden radio show, “Plant Talk with Mike Malloy,” on 98.9-WGUF.