By Erika Webb
They are released at weddings to symbolize new beginnings. They comfort the grieving by signifying transformation and re-birth. They tirelessly nourish that which we rely on to sustain life. Is it any wonder people continue to be fascinated by butterflies?
Jeanni Perry owns Roses and Gargoyles, "A Garden Lover's Paradise," in Lake Helen. She was flattered and excited when representatives of the City of Lake Helen asked her to design and plant a butterfly garden at City Hall. The garden will honor former City Administrator Don Findell, who retired last year.
"Mr. Findell is a huge fan of nature, so the city feels the garden is a very appropriate way to recognize his service and also be a relaxing, enjoyable place for the people of Lake Helen to enjoy," Ms. Perry posted on her website.
While Lake Helen coordinates with utility companies to identify underground lines before tilling and enriching the soil, Ms. Perry is selecting her favorite butterfly-luring plants and thinking about the garden's design.
She plans to plant pentas, milkweed, porter weed, native salvias, jatropha and herbs -- "anything in the carrot family like dill or fennel are great host plants," she said.
And pineapple sage, in the mint family, she added.
"The leaves smell like pineapple when you rub them. Its bright red flowers really attract the butterflies," Ms. Perry said.
Her theory about the growing popularity of butterfly gardens is of a practical nature.
"People are getting more aware of what we need to do to treat the earth right for sustainability," Ms. Perry said. "There's the beauty of the plants themselves, but (the positive impact) of butterflies, hummingbirds and bees -- we need the bees ... all of that adds to the beauty of having a butterfly garden."
She and her rescued plot hound/lab mix Gibbs each like to play in the dirt. Gibbs' formal name is Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs -- after Mark Harmon's character on NCIS -- "because they're both good looking, scary smart, on the quiet side and always investigating something."
The digging duo moved to Lake Helen from Orlando and opened the nursery a year ago.
"It's going good for being the first year and off the beaten path," Ms. Perry said.
Roses and Gargoyles features an outside nursery and inside garden shop where she likes to feature handmade items made by local artists.
And, no pun intended, she dug right in to become involved in helping the city by promoting events and volunteering wherever she can.
Ms. Perry loves the peaceful enclave with its days-gone-by close-knit community atmosphere.
"Lake Helen is Old Florida," she said. "You'd never know Daytona and Orlando are only 30 minutes away. It's like going back in time."
"It's good that I can live here and have my business here, and help the city of Lake Helen at the same time," she added.
Even though gardening conjures visions of a solitude-seeking individual, Ms. Perry hosts a virtual party on her website, rosesandgargoyles.com. It's worth a visit for education and entertainment, and it's a good bet that when she starts getting her hands dirty at City Hall she'll keep visitors posted on how her garden grows.
Yahoo Voices contributor Criss White researched and wrote about the human attraction to the artfully-winged insects, describing how their beauty goes beyond what meets the eye:
"The transformation that the butterfly goes through shows a powerful symbolism and likeness to human beings. The different stages, the difficulties, and finally emerging into a beautiful and colorful butterfly, which once was an unattractive crawling creature, also shows the power of human beings to surpass challenges, learn and then eventually soar to greater heights. Just as the butterfly has to go through some not so attractive stages, a person's life can through similar situations as well, but ultimately, in the end, reach one's full potential and become majestic and beautiful."
At Full Moon Natives in Port Orange, butterfly education is a staple.
"With the focus on bees and pollinators, it starts to include butterflies," co-owner Kevin Bagwell said in a phone interview, "One of the reasons we opened the native plant side is because of the butterflies."
Part of the nursery's commitment to healthy butterfly, vegetable and herb gardens is remaining toxin free.
"At no times do we use any chemical based pesticides on our plants. It's our commitment to both our customers and the environment," the website promises.
Mr. Bagwell said Full Moon Natives has formulated a foolproof approach to pest control.
"It's the pick and stomp method," he said. "We guarantee it works."
If the Bagwells and Ms. Perry are indicators, butterfly admirers have one main goal in common: to keep things natural and safe for not only the delicate flutterers, but for all which inhabit the earth.
"I'm huge on organic gardening," Ms. Perry agreed, "enriching the soil so it's the correct balance and not reaching for chemicals the first time you see a bug. There's good bugs and bad bugs."
This time of year butterflies are everywhere, a welcome sign of fall.
"They're getting ready for winter so they feed a lot," Mr. Bagwell said. "Migration occurs in spring and fall ... the monarchs are starting and some of the swallowtails, but some stay here all year."
He's all about political correctness when he talks about the species.
He said late-summer emerging Monarchs may live up to nine months -- longer than any other butterfly -- and are the ones that undertake the amazing 2,500-mile migratory journey from Canada to Mexico. The Zebra Swallowtail is the state butterfly and the Gulf Fritillary is striking with its orange, stained-glass patterned leaves.
"I don't like to give attention to one butterfly without the others," Mr. Bagwell said sincerely.
He is not the least bit hesitant to proudly proclaim that Florida's 338 species total nearly half the number -- 760 -- in the entire United States.
Full Moon Natives hosts educational programs for schools in Daytona Beach, DeLand and Port Orange.
"We work with a lot of schools because you can teach the life cycle," Mr. Bagwell said. "Teachers use the caterpillars in the classroom."
The Pawpaw Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society -- Mr. Bagwell is past-president -- has a demo area at the South Daytona Park of Honor.
"It demonstrates Florida natives, but it's actually a butterfly garden with native plants and host plants," Mr. Bagwell said.
Host plants often are called the nurseries of gardens. They are where the eggs are laid and where emerging larvae begin to feed. Eventually the caterpillars leave the host plant to form a chrysalis.
Some host plants include milkweed, passion flower and various herbs. Another is the coontie palm, a relative of the sago.
In a news-press.com article, Kevin Lollar described the delicate symbiotic relationship between the palm and its dependent, the atala, a butterfly, which nearly became extinct due to coontie harvesting.
In addition to providing a place for the atala to lay eggs, coonties contain a natural toxin that accumulates in the bodies of atala larvae to repel birds, Mr. Lollar explained.
Without the coonties adult atalas had no place to lay their eggs, painting a hopeless picture for future generations.
"Wild coonties' demise began with starch: Long before Europeans arrived in Florida, Native Americans used coontie as a source of starch. Coontie, in fact, is a Seminole word that means 'bread' or 'white root,' because the roots can be made into flour," Mr. Lollar wrote. "Coontie plants started disappearing throughout Florida, and so did the atala butterfly. By 1965, federal and state authorities thought the atala was extinct."
The species is being reintroduced to the environment, and the increased use of coonties in landscaping could ensure propagation of the "Florida native whose dazzling colors rival those of coral reef fish," the article reported.
Mr. Bagwell said most host plants serve a dual purpose, acting as nectar plants when they flower.
As he talked, Mr. Bagwell began to sound a little far away. Turns out, he never ceases to be intrigued by butterflies.
"One of the best shrubs out here for butterflies ... I'm looking at one right now and it's inundated with them ... is the Fire Bush. Its flower is tubular so it's great for providing nectar, great for hummingbirds, too."
He also had his eye on some painted ladies and a white peacock.
"We are seeing more mainstream interest in butterflies," Mr. Bagwell said. "It's becoming the thing to do, which is cool. We're not complaining."