South Florida has a very diverse population of butterflies, and one of the most interesting is the Giant Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio cresphontes). It is the largest species of butterfly found in North America. It has a wing span of 4-6.25 inches with a striking yellow and black coloration. The larva or caterpillar is sometimes referred to as The Orange Dog, because the host plant for this butterfly is members of the Citrus Family (Rutaceae). In S. Florida Citrus is still commonly grown, especially Key Limes, although several diseases have reduced the Citrus population. However, Citrus isn’t the only member of the family grown in S. Florida. Common Rue (Ruta graveolens), Wild Lime (Zanthoxylum fagara), White Sapote (Casimiroa edulis), and a small ornamental shrub, Lemonia (Ravenea spectabilis) are all members of the Citrus Family, and the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly will lay eggs on these plants for the larvae to consume.
The larvae or caterpillars resemble wet bird droppings when they hatch. This is a very useful camouflage to avoid predation. If this isn’t enough to avoid being eaten, they also possess an anatomical structure called an osmeteria. When the caterpillar is threatened, a pair of orange antennae like projections come out of the head emitting an unpleasant musky odor to ward off prey.
Richard Lyons Nursery carries many of the host plants for this butterfly as well as those for other butterflies which visit South Florida gardens.
This week’s selection is the Genus Portlandia and two relatives of Portlandia, Cubanola and Catesbaea. These small trees have very fragrant flowers which are pollinated by moths. All three are members of the Rubiaceae family which is home to coffee and gardenias.
Portlandia grandiflora (Tree Lily or Bell Flower) has fragrant flowers like its relative, the Gardenia. It is a small tree or shrub from the Caribbean attaining a height of 6-8 feet. It grows best in filtered light and does very well in South Florida’s alkaline soils. It blooms from spring to fall with 6 inch long bell shaped white to pinkish white flowers contrasted against dark green lush fleshy leaves.
Portlandia coccinea var. proctorii (Pink Bell Flower) is endemic to Jamaica and has a similar growth habit to P. grandiflora. However, its leaves and flowers are much smaller and the flower color is pink to red.
Cubanola domingensis (Dominican Bell Flower) is endemic to the Dominican Republic and was once classified in the genus Portlandia. It is a 5 foot shrub and its flowers are long, narrow, and hang straight down in pairs. They are also fragrant like Portlandia, but off-white to almost green in color. This plant thrives in partial shade to full shade.
Catesbaea spinosa (Lily Thorn) is native to the Caribbean basin and grows in full to partial sun and can attain a height of 8 feet. It has a corky bark, very slender, tiny leaves, and with thorny branches. It has 6 inch yellow-white flowers which dangle from the plant. It produces an edible fruit which is slightly tart, but with good flavor. Another member of this genus is C. parviflora which is native to the Florida Keys and is endangered.
Richard Lyons Nursery currently has all of these plants in stock.
Mussaenda is a genus of shrubs in the Rubiaceae Family (the Coffee Family) with very showy enlarged floral sepals which surround the true flower. Mussaendas are commonly planted in the South Florida landscape, although they are native to the African and Asian tropics.
Richard Lyons Nursery carries 6 different varieties as shown below.
This week’s featured plant is Hamelia cuprea (Bahama Firebush). Despite its common name of Bahama Firebush, this shrub is native to Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, and the Cayman Islands, but NOT the Bahamas. A close relative to Hamelia patans, our native Firebush, its leaves are larger and glossier, and the flowers are bell shaped and much more showy. In the fall and winter, the leaves turn a bronze color. The overall appearance of this shrub is conical and denser due to its larger leaves. Like our native Firebush, this one is also an excellent nectar source for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Richard Lyons Nursery has the Bahama Firebush in stock as well as the S. Florida native.
The Tree Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea arborea) is in all its splendor now in S. Florida. A true species Bougainvillea that grows in tree form usually with multiple trunks. It can attain a height of 20 feet or more and only has light purple to lavender bracts. Unlike its hybrid cousins, which have many different colors and grow in shrub to vining form. However, just like its hybrid cousins, all Bougainvilleas make excellent nectar sources for butterflies, as well as hummingbirds.
Richard Lyons Nursery has this Tree Bougainvillea in 3gal. containers.