Butterfly Sage: bees love it, too!

Hmm...Let's see whether there's any nectar in this here Cordia globosa flower.

Birds love it.

Bees love it.

Maybe even educated fleas love it.

But butterflies probably love it the most.

What is it? Why, butterfly sage, of course. I’ve written before about the merits of this plant variously known as butterfly sage, blood berry, bonbon rond, guérit-tout, gout tea, Curaçao bush, and more. All these names, and many more, according to Dan Austin, refer to this Florida-native shrub with the shaggy leaves, white flower heads, and red fruits, Cordia globosa.

Mockingbirds are so partial to the abundant red berries and its densely branching habit that pairs will stake them out as nesting places and defend them against all comers. (The berries aren’t particularly ornamental, though, because they’re so small.)

Cordia globosa. Boca Raton, FL, September 6, 2015.

Cordia globosa. Boca Raton, FL, September 6, 2015.

Honeybees are on the flowers from dawn till dusk.

And even though it’s not a larval host plant for any butterfly that I know of, it’s one of the best butterfly nectar plants around, particularly for the smaller butterflies like the Fiery Skipper and the smaller blues and hairstreaks. In my yard, the following species have been seen on it (hit the links to recent photos for some species; the other species listed are ones for which I’m confident that I had photos before the hard-drive crash of Thanksgiving 2014):

  • Atala Blue (Eumaeus atala)
  • Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak (Strymon istapa)
  • Martial Scrub-Hairstreak (S. martialis)
  • Cassius Blue (Leptotes cassius)
  • Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus)
  • Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius)
  • Fiery Skipper (Hylephila philaeus)
  • Monk Skipper (Asbolis capucinus)
  • Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae)
  • Zebra Heliconian (Heliconius charithonia)
  • Monarch (Danaus plexippus)
  • Queen (Danaus gallipus)
  • Great Southern White (Ascia monuste)

In addition to the ones listed above, I’m fairly certain that several other butterflies who frequent the yard also enjoy it, to wit:

  • Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa)
  • Barred Yellow (Eurema daira)
  • Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole)
  • Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae)

Heck, even dragonflies love it:

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). Boca Raton, FL, March 19, 2015.

Blue Dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis). Boca Raton, FL, March 19, 2015.

One of the reasons it’s such a good butterfly (and bird) plant is that the leaves and branches are stiff enough to support the weight of larger butterflies, but its flower clusters (inflorescences, to be technical) are shallow enough to allow short-tongued species to reach in:

Cassius Blue butterfly with a face full of Cordia globosa flower. Boca Raton, FL, September 3, 2015.

Cassius Blue butterfly with a face full of Cordia globosa flower. Boca Raton, FL, September 3, 2015.

In fact, the flowers are so small and so inviting that they also attract the tiny halictid bees in the genus Lasioglossum chalcid wasps in the family Chalcidae, which seem to enjoy crawling around inside small flowers like Richardia, Lantana, and Cordia. Of course, when butterfly meets wasp, there’s sometimes a bit of a standoff.

And that’s what I found just the other day in the photo sequence below. In this first shot, the butterfly (a Cassius Blue) has just landed on the flower head and hasn’t yet probed it. The wasp appears to be playing a game of hide and seek, or perhaps peekaboo:

Hmm...Let's see whether there's any nectar in this here Cordia globes flower.

Butterfly: Hmm… Let’s see whether there’s any nectar in this here flower. Wasp: Hmm… Let’s see whether I can scare the nectar out of that butterfly!

Yup. But I'm not sure I want it now!

Butterfly: Better unfurl that proboscis and find out! Wasp: Better not!

Better unfurl that proboscis and find out!

Butterfly: Yipe! You can keep your nectar! There’s plenty of other flowers on this bush! Wasp: You’re darn tootin’!

The first shot was taken about two seconds before the second and third ones, which were taken at “the same time” according to my camera’s info. If you look closely at the sequence of photos, you can see the butterfly backing away between the second and third shot after almost getting a proboscis full of wasp! I didn’t get close enough to verify through the lens, but I’m pretty sure the wasp has a self-satisfied smirk on its face.

And, in case you were wondering about the Cole Porter reference that started this post, here’s a picture of a pair of Cassius Blues enjoying the convenience of the butterfly sage plant in one of the most fundamental of ways:

Cassius Blue pair enjoying the butterfly sage. Boca Raton, FL, August 30, 2015.

Cassius Blue pair enjoying the butterfly sage. Boca Raton, FL, August 30, 2015.


Austin, D. 2006. Florida Ethnobotany. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis.

Osorio, R. 2001. A Gardener’s Guide to Florida’s Native Plants. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Plants and transplants

Swietenia mahogani, Boca Raton, November 23, 2013.

The week before Thanksgiving 2013 was a busy one at the homestead. First, I found out that the “shrub” I transplanted from the old house and put right up next to the new house, counting on a nice upright slender shrub was in fact a West Indies mahogany tree that would have a crown width of 30-40 feet when mature. Whoops! So I had to move that baby away from the house. And of course it had just settled into the spot I’d originally transplanted it to; it had only been in the last two to three weeks that I’d started noticing some nice new growth and height.

Here’s how this little guy started:

West India Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni growing in the wrong spot.

West India Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni growing in the wrong spot.

And here’s how it’ll probably end up:

Swietenia mahogani, Boca Raton, FL. November 24, 2013.

Swietenia mahogani, Boca Raton, FL. November 24, 2013.

Most of the mahogany saplings that volunteer in people’s yards here in Boca Raton are offspring of the nursery-originated street trees that the city planted about thirty years ago along SW 4th Avenue and in other areas. Those trees were put in because mahogany was considered endangered at that point. Of course, that was back when the species approach to restoration was all people knew: if a species is endangered, propagate it. Now it’s recognized that even though a listed species might be desirable because of what it does for its native habitat, it’s the plant communities that grow up in that native habitat that provide the environmental and ecological benefits of that endangered species. There’s little point to planting a mahogany by itself if you’re trying to bring back the benefits of a mahogany hammock. You need the entire plant community that grows up in its shade. A wonderful example of that is at the aptly named Mahogany Hammock in Everglades National Park, where old-growth mahoganies have reached truly gigantic proportions and created a wonderful hammock community in their wake. Just watch out for the sap from the poisonwood trees (Metopium toxiferum) there; it can sometimes coat the benches and give unsuspecting visitors who sit or lie on them a severe rash, as I found out the hard way…

So anyway, I moved my mahogany away from the house:

Swietenia mahogani, Boca Raton, November 23, 2013.

Swietenia mahogani, Boca Raton, November 23, 2013.

That job done I started looking around to see what else needed doing and I cast my eye on the tightly planted area behind my giant American Beautyberry plant. I had planted a Pigeon-plum (Coccoloba diversifolia) on the east side of it and a blolly (Guapira discolor) and a crabwood (Gymnanthes lucida) too close together on the north. So it was time to thin out that little thicket and give each plant the room to grow it deserved.

The crabwood is a relatively large shrub or small tree, but it grows in a nice lollipop shape, about 25 feet tall max and maybe that much or less in crown. So as far as I can tell, the spot vacated by the mahogany, about 10 to 12 feet away from the house, would be perfect for it! So that’s where I wound up relocating that guy:

Gymnanthes lucida. Boca Raton, FL, November 23, 2013. Transplanted and staked; fingers crossed.

Gymnanthes lucida. Boca Raton, FL, November 23, 2013. Transplanted and staked; fingers crossed.

I suspect everyone will be happier now that there’s a bit less competition.

After that, there was no stopping me. I noticed that the group of Cordia globosa plants I’d tried to get to form a hedge up under the front windows never really took off in that full sun location. I’m surprised that they didn’t do well there; they’re supposed to be full sun plants. But now that I think about it, the best plants I have of this species are the ones growing in the more protected areas of my yard, half sun at most. In those situations they seem to grow quite vigorously, but out there with full sun all day long they just sort of tried and died. I eventually gave it up as a bad job and ripped them out.

Next weekend I’m going to replace them with dwarf strong bark (Bourreria cassinifolia) which, while not quite as formal a hedge as I’d been thinking of (as if C. globosa were!), should be perfect for that location, and at least as attractive to butterflies and other pollinators as the previous tenants of that spot.

To get ready for those newcomers, after I ripped out the old shrubs I laid down 20 bags of melaleuca mulch—literally laid them down still in the unopened bag over the bare soil, so that nothing will grow there for the week or so that the bare dirt is showing. Then, after I plant the newcomers next week, I’ll just pop open the bags and voilà! instant mulched hedge.

While I was at the nursery buying the mulch Daniel and I noticed a couple of small pots of Dune Sunflower (Helianthus debilis) going begging, so I brought them hone and planted them in the area right behind my mail box that’s always been a bit lonely looking. I can’t wait for them to start spreading and bringing in the pollinators like this sweat bee (halictid species) from this spring:

Halictid bee on Dune Sunflower. Boca Raton, FL, May 26, 2013.

Halictid bee on Dune Sunflower. Boca Raton, FL, May 26, 2013.

Happy fun times, getting dirty and sweaty and making the place look nice.

New backyard planting: Cordia globosa


I’ve mentioned this plant a few times, but I don’t think I’ve ever really written up this interesting little shrub, Cordia globosa; the common name is bloodberry. It has many virtues to recommend it: it’s easy to grow, easy to maintain, and attractive to a wide variety of  nectaring insects and berry-hungry birds. The flowers aren’t particularly showy, but they are abundant, and when the plant fruits, the little red berries make a nice display. I have one growing in my front “courtyard”; here’s a picture of the tiny little flower:

The flowers aren’t normally borne singly; I just wanted to show one flower head without the old brown flowers cluttering it up. Here is what the marble-sized flower head on a short stem (peduncle, when it supports an inflorescence, as these do) looks like normally, with a few new white flowers and a few old brown ones. I also like the intricate pattern of “dots” (papillae; when hairy, “papillose-hispid”) on the coarsely serrate leaves:

The flowers are quite small, which is very nice for the smaller butterflies like the Cassius Blue or the Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak, which are tiny little guys that can’t extend their proboscis into the deeper flowers. And the berries are so abundant that the giant plant at my old house provoked several families of mockingbirds into weeks’-long squabbles over possession of it. Here’s a little shot of that large old plant (and less than a year in the ground at that; it eventually grew to about twice this size):

According to Rufino (we native plant enthusiasts say that the way a previous generation of card players would say “According to Hoyle,” at least here in Palm Beach County), it can be trimmed to nearly any desired height or shape. I didn’t find this to be the case with the large plant I had on the side of the old house; when I trimmed it back from the a/c unit, it never regained its former vigor.

The IRCS website notes that it is listed as endangered by the state of Florida, and imperiled in the Florida Keys. It’s readily available in the native plant trade, though.

I’m hoping to get numerous seedling of this baby and plant them as a hedge in the front yard. I’ve got several firebushes and cocoplums in the propagation station, but nothing looks super vigorous, and I know firsthand how fast this bloodberry plant can grow.

The name is a bit of a puzzler: cordialis in Latin is hearty, cordial, but that doesn’t help us at all. In fact, cordia is actually an eponym. The genus was named after the 16th-century German botanist Valerius CordusGlobosa is, well, globular (spherical, really), as in globular cluster. The plant is usually written up as Cordia globosa (Jacq.) Kunth HBK., which might lead one to believe that this is  another of the plants described by the short-lived French botanist, Victor Jacquemont. Another one is the vine in my back yard, Jacquemontia pentanthos. However, this is not the case, because Victor Jacquemont was born in 1801, and no matter how precocious he was, I don’t think he was getting published before birth. No, this plant was described in 1760 as Varronia globosa by Nicolas Josef Freiherr von Jacquin in his ponderously titled, pre-Linnaean botanical prodromus, Enumeratio Systematica Plantarum, quas In Insules Caraibes vicinaque Americes continente detexit novas, aut jam cognitas emendavit).

Here are the two pages where it is mentioned by Jacquin; first the “genus” page:

and then the “species” page:

The taxon was later revised by Kunth in Humboldt et al., Nov. Gen. Sp. 3: 76. 1818, and we know it today as good old Cordia globosa:

The one in my front courtyard certainly appears vigorous; here is what it looked like back in late April, shortly after being put in the ground; you can see it’s barely taller than the baby Salvia in front of it:

And here it is almost exactly three months later (the plant on the right); it’s nearly four feet tall already, and preparing to dominate the scene:

It looks even bigger because it’s placed right next to the diminutive Heliotropium polyphyllum, which is a fine flower in its own right, but will not grow about 12 inches high at best. That’s a mistake I’ll not repeat.

I’m waiting rather impatiently for this plant to fruit, so I can collect the babies and put them out front as a border hedge along the front sidewalk. (My neighbors are probably waiting slightly less patiently, as the bare patch in the front yard is rather unsightly at the moment!)