Bigger Than Life
This Florida conservationist takes butterfly gardening to the next level.
By Karey McCann, Okeechobee, Florida
You can think big when you have a 43-acre backyard. This is what Sue Arnold, owner of Arnold's Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Okeechobee, Florida, did after the 2004 hurricane season.
Storms had damaged an orange tree grove near the side of her home. After they hauled away the ruined trees, Sue began to think about what to do with the cleared area. She knew she wanted it to stay as a wildlife-friendly habitat, so she devised a plan.
"It dawned on me that I could turn it into a butterfly garden as an extension of the animal conservation efforts of the center," Sue says. "I didn't really know what would happen, but I figured I'd give it a try."
The result is a free-roaming, 1/2-acre butterfly garden laid out in the shape of a zebra longwing, the Florida state butterfly. Sue named her garden Butterfly Haven and the "flying flowers" come and go as they please.
After the garden was planted, Sue learned that her area is one of the 52 locations in Florida included in the annual butterfly count held by the North American Butterfly Association. Last summer and fall, her garden was included in the counts, and the lush area boasted 57 of the region's 60 indigenous butterfly species.
Butterfly Haven has more than 2,000 plants in the 12 sections that form the butterfly shape. Each section contains native host and nectar plants to attract certain species. But the plants are not just for the butterflies—hummingbirds are frequent visitors as well.
Sue admits she is not a butterfly expert, merely a butterfly and plant lover, but she did her research before developing her garden.
"This is butterfly gardening 101," she jokes. "Mother Nature is in charge here."
It's not difficult to get started, though, Sue says. Butterfly gardening is generally easy once you know the right plants for the species in your area.
"There is a huge amount of information on the Web and in books specific to butterfly gardening," Sue says. "Plus, you can easily get information through your local butterfly and gardening clubs, and your county's Extension service."
Butterflies, like other creatures, are suffering because of diminishing habitats. Sue built her garden in part to help replenish those habitats, but also to educate people about butterflies and the type of plants that attract them.
"It's a one-stop resource," Sue says. "People are amazed at the number and different species of butterflies here. They see the plants in the garden, take notes and then apply that knowledge to their own backyards."
Sue doesn't suggest that everyone build a butterfly garden on such a large scale, but says that every little bit helps.
"Even planting a corner of your own backyard with plants that provide a breeding and feeding ground for butterflies can make a difference," she says. "They are such beautiful creatures, so why not plant for butterflies?"
Sue Arnold knows how to get the most out of a butterfly garden. Check out her Web site at www.arnoldswildlife.org. Here are a few of Sue's secrets…
- Keep it simple. Start with a small plot, and plant perennials and flowering shrubs first. Then fill in with annuals as needed.
- Look for nurseries in your area that claim to have native plants. They will have a good selection to choose from, and they will be perfect for the butterflies in your region.
- Don't worry if your garden isn't perfect. You will get holes in your leaves because that's what the caterpillars do—eat the leaves. But be patient. Those same caterpillars will soon be beautiful butterflies.
- National Audubon Society field guides for individual states show butterflies in your region and the plants they like. These are great resources.
- Go on-line. Some of Sue's favorite sites are www.butterflywebsite.com and www.naba.org.