Butterflies and Butterfly Gardens Blog

Do you have an interest in Butterflies?

How would you like to see a real butterfly garden?

Would you like to talk to an expert on butterflies and the plants needed to attract, and feed these amazing insects?

May Day’s resident butterfly expert, Butch Osterbye, would be happy to show you around and have an in depth conversation about one of his favorite insects, the butterfly, and the plants they love.  May Day invites you to visit our wonderful butterfly garden that is thriving in our attractive hardscape area.

These colorful insects are such a delight to observe in a natural habitat as they flutter around the garden among plants that are specially selected to meet their needs.  The relationship between butterfly, caterpillar and the plants they eat for food is not a casual one. It is a relationship created over thousands of years as flowering plants developed alongside these interesting insects. Caterpillars will only eat certain plants. This limiting factor has forced the butterfly to be very selective of the plants where eggs will be laid. The plants selected, serve as a nursery for the eggs and as a food source for the developing caterpillar. These plants are known as “Host plants”. Since the caterpillar eats its environment, the plant takes on a look of having been “Munched on”. Be prepared for this denuding of the plant, but be happy that you have provided a host plant for the development of many butterflies.

Now that the plant has been chewed on, the caterpillars seem to have disappeared but you see a burst of colorful butterflies around your garden, fluttering from flower to flower. They are now searching for all the nectar or feeder plants in the area.

May Day features plants in our garden center that attract, feed and offer hosting for the amazing world of butterflies. Butch would be delighted to show you the benefits and characteristics of each host or feeder plant and help you design your butterfly garden.

Host Plants for the Tallahassee Area

  • Milkweed
  • Passion Vine
  • Citrus
  • Cassia
  • Coontie


Feeder plants for the Tallahassee Area

  • Coneflower
  • Coreopsis
  • Milkweed
  • Mexican fire
  • Firecracker plant
  • Penta
  • Most plants that have flowers


Interesting aspects of a Monarch Butterfly

In the course of a year, the Monarch butterfly goes through four generations and each generation consists of four stages of development.  The life span consists of:

  • The Egg
  • The Caterpillar or Larva
  • The Chrysalis or the Pupa
  • The fully developed adult Butterfly

  • During the months of February and March, the hibernating butterflies emerge from their Mexican or California grounds and begin looking for a mate.
  • They then head east and north, looking for an acceptable host plant on which to lay the eggs.
  • And within four days the caterpillars begin to appear. These larvae have but one job, and that is to eat and grow up.
  • When the caterpillar attains adult hood, in about 2 weeks, it connects itself to a twig or leaf and begins the change into the Chrysalis stage where the transformation into a butterfly begins.
  • The emerging butterfly is fully developed and begins its journey for the next 2 to 6 weeks feeding on surrounding nectar plants and preparing for the next generation with the laying of eggs.
  • This process with be completed for two more generations.
  • The fourth generation is a bit different in that having been born in September through October, they are destined to live longer and migrate to the warmer climates of Mexico and California. It is there that they hibernate, awaiting spring and the migration north and start the process all over again.


The needs of butterflies


Butterflies are cold blooded insects, they need the sun to start their day in the morning to warm up their bodies.



Butterflies need some water, but not in copious amounts as they are unable to drink from open water sources.  In fact they get most of the needed amounts of moisture from dew, nectar, tree sap or any point where a bit of moisture has collected such as wet sand, dirt, and puddling stations (moist sponges laid out in the garden) created by people.



Trees and shrubs serve as protective areas for butterflies. These plants and trees provide a place for these insects to be protected from strong winds, roost at night or hide from predators.

Host Plants

Butterflies are selective of the plants where they will lay their eggs. The reason for this selectivity is that when the eggs hatch and the caterpillar emerges, the plant serves as the dinner plate for the young insects. They are very selective of what plants they will consume. Eggs laid on the wrong plant results in the Caterpillar or Lava to die when it eats the incompatible leaves.


Adult Feeding sources

The nectar of flowering plants is the favored food of the adult butterfly. Most butterflies are not very discriminating or picky about where they get their food and will feed on a variety of flowers. There are some cases where a species of butterfly will have a favorite flower. In addition to flowers, there are other food sources such as fermenting fruit, manure, carrion (road kill) and mud.


Other feeding attractions

Sugaring, a homemade mixture of sugar, molasses, honey or other sweet sugary mix. Let your imagination run wild by experimenting with your sweet mixture concoction.  Spread this sweet mixture on rocks, fence posts or tree trunk as a way of attracting butterflies. A popular form of sugaring is to take a sponge, make it damp with your mixture and hang or place in a location that will attract butterflies.