So are we better off digging up our lawns in order to create butterfly gardens? That depends if you have a nice weedy lawn or not. To have your own urban meadow, you will need to stop watering, skip the pesticides & fertilizers, and hopefully mow less frequently using a push reel meadow (lawn) mower (non gas powered/non electric).
So what is one to do if the desire is to attract butterflies and to get rid of the lawn?
You may run into problems finding the correct species. In that case, you can encourage native plant nurseries to grow them, or try growing them yourself. No one thinks about planting grass to attract butterflies, but many of the smaller skippers host on our native grass species. Water features such as ponds are also great additions. With a diverse assemblage of natives you will be able to focus on host plants for the more unusual butterflies, provide adult butterflies with a varied diet and you will see these and other insects visit in great numbers. This will inevitably attract additional wildlife such as birds, snakes, and lizards.
Here is a four year-old Pine Rockland Habitat in the middle of suburbia. Note that a few trees and shrubs are present while native grasses are dominant.
Also, try to focus on additional insects such as bees, wasps, and moths. Native palms (especially saw palmetto and cabbage palm) are both great insect attractors and butterfly host plants. Some moths are diurnal, such as the rattlebox moth, and have caterpillars like butterflies. About an inch long, the rattlebox moth is showy, pink, and hosts on Dwarf rattlebox, Rabbit bells (Crotalaria pumila, and C. rotundifolia), the latter having a broader range in Florida. Members of the Apocynaceae (dogbane family) also attract a great number of diurnal moths such as Oleander moths, Faithful beauty moths, and various other wasp moths. Host plants for them include Wild allamanda (Pentalinon luteum), Devil’s potato (Echites umbellata), and Pineland allamanda (Angadenia berteroi). Make an effort to stick to things native to your area, not just native to Florida
This Polka Dot Wasp Moth was photographed in the above pine rockland habitat.
In summary, butterfly gardens are a great beginning and a way to reach out to the non-nature oriented. Thanks to my mom, I myself grew up “raising” monarch caterpillars in a brandy snifter covered in panty hose. They may even be more appropriate for more formal/less diverse landscapes. Eventually, though, holistic approaches to landscapes are what are needed to create a sustainable yard, not to mention a sustainable planet. By restoring habitats historic to your area, you are doing just that.