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June 18, 2010

Plant it and they will come. That has been our motto at the Spring Creek Nature Park and butterfly garden. This season we extended an invitation for the maypop or Passiflora incarnata to break out of the borders of the beds and extend its range as far as it could. Soon this beautiful Florida native vine with the large purple/blue flowers was covering most shrubs and ground covers. This week however the landscapers have trimmed it back considerably. I’m speaking of our natural maypop landscaper, the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Dione vanillae. The Gulf Fritillary butterflies are blanketing this garden, making up the majority of the butterflies now sharing the space with the polydamas, black swallowtail, monarchs, occasional peacock and eastern swallowtail.

We have cared for this space for a little over a year now, an ecotone between the mangrove forest and the pine uplands. We planted native plants indigenous to this area before our development was carved out here. We have left the immediate edge of the mangroves untouched. This practiced has encouraged many of the native ground covers to return providing for many additional host and nectar sources for our winged dancers that we enjoy so much!
Because of their abundance their life cycle is laid out for everyone to see; two butterflies quietly joined and perched inside native vegetation; a tiny, golden egg on a leaf or tendril, caterpillars devouring the leaves, chrysalides that look like dried leaves and emerging Fritillaries. As the cats begin to hatch, wasps come in for their fill to bring back to their own larvae while anoles wait for the right time to take their prey. But despite their predators they have managed to not only survive but flourish in this small native garden. The maypop eventually rebounds with the rain and summer heat and the cycle begins again.

Gulf Fritillary sipping nectar from the wild sage, Lantana involucrata.

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