Depending on variety, butterflies take from 29 to 53 days to go from egg-laying to emerged adult. Then the cycle repeats itself.
In 2009, about a year after Kaylee and her Nana had planted their first host and nectar plants, Parrish discovered yellow-, black- and white-striped Monarch caterpillars on the milkweed.
She also learned the thermometer was headed for below 47 degrees, and that would kill the creatures. So she wrapped up Kaylee until “all you could see were her eyes,” and headed outside with her husband, Geoff Cohen. They searched with flashlights to rescue all the caterpillars they could find before the extreme cold descended.
They put hundreds of these caterpillars in six butterfly boxes, after which they had to clean and feed them twice a day for the duration. “All they do is poop and eat,” Parrish says.
After two or three days, she ran out of leaves for them to eat. But she persevered and soon the caterpillars were creating their characteristic chrysalises and changing into orange and black Monarch butterflies.
“My friends would come over and instead of playing cards, we watched butterflies hatch,” Parrish says.
Kaylee, her pajamas covered with adult butterflies released from their cages in the kitchen, went outdoors so they could fly off and return to nature.
“We were hooked after that,” Parrish says. “We went to the nursery and bought plants we didn’t have. Then we went to the store and bought more plants.”
Just yesterday, Red Admirals fought their way out of their chrysalises in her yard and, like any proud parent, Parrish posted their photos on Facebook.
Today when Parrish or Kaylee spots a butterfly they’ve never seen before, they write the details next to the picture of these natural artworks in Butterflies of Florida: A Field Guide by Jaret C. Daniels.
Parrish has many tomes on butterflies and butterfly gardening, but she prefers the used ones she has purchased because they have their previous owner’s notes about nature. “I find them fascinating,” she says.
Kaylee and her Nana have spotted 57 varieties of butterflies since they planted the garden; about 83 species inhabit Broward County.
Ask them their favorites and Kaylee will tell you the Giant swallowtail because its caterpillar camouflages itself in black, gray and white so it looks like “bird poop” on the underside of a leaf.
Parrish is partial to Ruddy Daggerwings, White Peacocks and Cabbage butterflies as well as Eastern Tiger swallowtails that she says fly “high and quick.”
In her garden, take a seat between the showy flowers of the frangipani. You can find a spot on the cement bench dedicated to her son. Wait quietly and, in seconds, the show begins.
A Gulf Fritillary and a Julia head for the purple passionflower vine planted along a fence, some in full sun and the rest in shade. Different butterflies have different needs, including the Zebra Longwing caterpillar that prefers the shade on this plant.
A Cassius Blue hovers by the plumbago in its sea foam green pot. Sulphurs indulge in the Necklace Pod. And Duskywings alight on the spherical pink flowers of the Giant Gomphrena.
Meanwhile, an adult Malachite, named for the green color on its wings, feasts on rotten fruit that it finds on a wild strawberry plant.
In Parrish’s butterfly haven, you’ll find hundreds of pots filled with a variety of plants, including Florida Pellitory, Frog Fruit and peppergrass. Yes, these are often considered weeds, but they also serve as host and nectar plants.
“They are everywhere and they are free,” she says. “What’s better, you don’t have to fertilize or weed them. They have lots of advantages,” she adds with a husky laugh.
In fact, Parrish carries a pink metal pail and small shovel in her car. If she sees a weed that doubles as a butterfly plant, she takes it home. “I don’t pull weeds anymore, I dig them,” she says. Parking lot borders are a fertile source.
But once back in her own garden, she keeps the weeds contained, often in pots hanging from the trees. “Otherwise they’ll take over,” she says.
She keeps the Beach sunflower in a glazed pot. She even has photos of a Red Admiral hatching on the side of a blue pot filled with nettle.
“It’s wonderful when an unassuming plant surprises you with beautiful butterflies,” she says.
Deborah S. Hartz-Seeley can be reached at email@example.com.