This is one in a series of occasional reports about South Florida gardens.
A yellow and black Eastern Tiger swallowtail settles on the white flowers of a Sweetbay magnolia. A Sleepy Orange Sulphur sips from the showy yellow blooms of a Mexican Senna.
And reddish wing patches mark two Red Admirals hovering together in the air. When this butterfly mating ritual takes place, Lori Parrish tells her granddaughter Kaylee Brown, 10, that the beautiful winged creatures are “getting married.”
Of course Parrish, who lives in Davie, is the Broward property appraiser, a former county commissioner and school board member. She’s also been an avid gardener since she was a child helping her grandmother raise flowers on a family farm in Kentucky.
“She gave me my appreciation for growing things,” Parrish says.
This butterfly garden, which takes up about 25 percent of a builder’s acre, was created not only for Kaylee, but also to honor her father, Parrish’s son, Gary. He died in 2008.
“Gary loved nature. He was into extreme sports including hiking, skiing and surfing. You name it. If it was outdoors, he did it,” says Parrish whose granddaughter calls her Nana. So at his funeral, his sister, Brandi, charged their mother with giving her granddaughter a love of nature.
Not long after that, Parrish’s sister, Crickett Deyo, gave her an Angel Wing begonia and a Bleeding Heart, plants that attract butterflies. That’s when Parrish realized a butterfly garden would be the perfect memorial to her son and a fun way to involve her granddaughter in the outdoors.
“After the funeral, it gave us something to do. But when Kaylee took to it, the butterfly garden blossomed from there,” says Deyo, who lives in Cooper City.
The trio soon learned that butterflies go through four phases in their life cycle — egg, larva or caterpillar, pupa/chrysalis and, finally, adult butterfly. And if you want them to inhabit your garden, you need to cater to each phase.
Host or larval plants attract egg-laying adult butterflies. And when they hatch into caterpillars, the chubby fellows immediately devour the leaves of the host plant that is very specific to each species.
In Parrish’s garden, the tree-climber Dutchman’s Pipe is a larval plant for the Gold-Rimmed swallowtail; the Red Bay in its maroon pot hosts the Spicebush swallowtail and Palamedes swallowtail.
When the caterpillars hatch and begin to forage, you can expect the leaves of these larval plants to be chewed and eaten. But don’t worry, they may look sad but they should survive and grow new foliage.
Just remember those caterpillars will have a better chance of becoming adult butterflies if you don’t spray them with pesticides. Just leave it all to nature.
In the next stage of their life cycle, the caterpillars spin silk in order to attach themselves to a leaf, where they turn into a chrysalis and rebuild themselves into exquisite adult butterflies.
When the completely formed adult spreads its wings, it goes in search of the showy flowers of your garden’s nectar plants. Here they’ll sip their sustenance without damaging the flowers that, again, are specific to each variety.
In Parrish’s garden, the yellow blossoms of the Desert Cassia tempt the Orange-Barred Sulphur; the Little Yellow Sulphur prefers to sip on the pink puffy globes of the Sunshine Mimosa.