Pollinators and their Favorite Plants

By Nan Mattingly

Clouded skipper

In Florida, 80 per cent of our food crops depend on pollination by insects, birds and bats to produce seeds and fruits as well as to promote the growth of plants and trees. In natural settings, pollinators are essential to produce the superstars of our forests and wetlands – our many eye-catching wildflowers.

Over thousands of years, plants have cleverly evolved to attract pollinators, developing bigger, showier, more colorful flowers to reel them in. The flower-to-flower visits of pollinators became the most efficient way to spread pollen, which results in seeds or fruits that enable plants and trees to reproduce. 

In Florida, wildflower plants have adapted their size, shape and color to attract certain pollinators – and for that reason we have many unique wildflowers that depend on particular pollinators. Some plants have “generalist” flowers to attract any and all pollinators – opting for survival at all costs.    

In the forests of the CREW Project, you can observe significant pollinator/plant relationships. To help you get started, we’ve provided some examples of common wildflowers and pollinators that are often associated with them. 

Milkweed and monarchs

The magnificent monarch relies on native Florida milkweed as it goes through its annual migratory cycle. Milkweed provides returning monarchs with essential early-spring host resources and abundant, high-quality nectar. But not all milkweed is healthy for pollinators. Most of us are familiar with the showy tropical milkweed which has become a popular landscape plant. Because this version of Florida milkweed (there are 21) has adapted to our suburban settings, it remains green longer than other varieties, encouraging the monarch to linger here and breed too late in the season. It also exposes monarchs to colder temperatures and to the pesticides on lawn plants. At CREW you’ll find more congenial varieties of milkweed for the monarch to deposit its eggs and sip the nectar of the plant. Look for swamp milkweed, butterfly milkweed, or aquatic milkweed.

Hairy indigo and the ceraunus blue butterfly

Hairy indigo was introduced in Florida as a ground cover to protect against soil erosion in citrus orchards. As with so many plants brought to Florida for a specific purpose, it has escaped its boundaries and is now seen in natural habitats, where it is a favorite of the delicate ceraunus blue butterfly. Hairy indigo is a low-growing plant with hairy stems and leaves, and in summer it produces a profusion of pink or red spikes of flowers.

Saw palmetto and the great purple hairstreak butterfly

Saw palmetto is a low-growing, winding plant that looks somewhat like a sabal palm lying on its side. In the spring it produces long stalks of yellow-white, fragrant flowers. You can see plenty of saw palmetto at CREW, especially at the two trail systems on Corkscrew Road- CREW Cypress Dome and Marsh Trails. The great purple hairstreak has a few other favorites for collecting nectar, including Bidens alba (also known as Spanish needle), another common sight at CREW. Despite its name, the great purple hairstreak butterfly isn’t really purple; it’s outer wings are brown with a touch of purple, and its underside is an iridescent blue. This butterfly may have multiple sources of nectar but it has only one place to deposit its larvae: on the parasitic oak mistletoe plant.

Pipevine plant and the pipevine swallowtail butterfly

This is another pollinator/plant relationship in which the plant is the larval host for the butterfly as well as its favorite source of nectar. It’s a little unusual because the plant itself is toxic to most butterflies and caterpillars, but the pipevine swallowtail is immune. In fact, that toxicity protects the caterpillars – predators recognize the toxic poison and look for food elsewhere. Pipevine is a climbing woody vine with pipe-shaped burgundy or purple flowers that bloom in May and June.         

Coontie plant and the atala butterfly

The only plant on which the atala will deposit its eggs is the coontie plant, another toxic plant. Atala larvae eat the coontie plant and render the butterfly toxic. The flamboyant red abdomen of the atala is a warning to predators that this butterfly is poisonous. The atala had almost disappeared from Florida until recent conservation efforts restored it to some habitats with abundant coontie plants.

Turkey tangle fogfruit and the white peacock butterfly

You’re almost certain to see a white peacock butterfly on CREW lands. It prefers to eat the leaves and the nectar of turkey tangle fogfruit (try saying that quickly!) but it takes advantage of just about any wildflower offering nectar. The white peacock flies low to the ground so it’s easy to spot.     

The next time you check the pollen count, don’t get mad because pollen stirs up your allergies and makes you cough or sneeze. Be grateful for pollen – it is essential to the successful creation of seeds and fruits that propagate the many wildflowers and plants of CREW.

Botanical Scrapbook

Before naturalists could easily hold a professional-grade camera in the palm of their hands, they would often preserve flowers and leaves in botanical scrapbooks. This practice requires patience, planning and sweat equity and serves a variety of interests, both scientific and sentimental. 

Whatever their purpose, the practice is less common these days, as we opt for a digital photograph and leave the flowers for the next nature seeker to enjoy.

On the off chance that you do not have a bookshelf full of botanical scrapbooks to peruse, I hope you enjoy reflecting on this fascinating hobby by flipping through a recently uncovered scrapbook found at our office.

These pages evoke hours spent walking through the pine flatwoods and marshy trails, gathering specimens to press and add to the collection, presumably in the comfort of home. The pages tell the story of the naturalist, finding joy achieving another seemingly small, but wholly significant goal, that of ticking-off another flower from their bucket list. Viewers may now admire the carefully clipped and photographed plants documented in this native and invasive plant collection. 

Although, rules and regulations today prohibit the collection of any plants within CREW, we do wish to honor the past. In fact, some botanical researchers still utilize this method for scholarly pursuits and I know that on occasion my son will secretly pick a flower as a gift. However, I am quick to use this as a teaching moment, letting him know that those plants are there for a reason. The bears eat the berries and the bees drink the flower’s nectar. More often than not these days, he asks for my phone to snap a picture, which I can then keep forever. 

Academics and toddlers aside, please do not pick the flowers on the CREW trails, take a picture and leave the plants for the pollinators! Although, if you’re really keen to start a scrapbook collection of your own, try growing some of the native plants you see at CREW in your own backyard, then pick and press away! 

We hope that you have enjoyed these pages digitized in honor of the plant’s beauty and also the collector’s personal investment, from what I am calling, the Blue Botanical Scrapbook. Enjoy this walk down memory lane and if you ever want to take a look through these archives in person, let me know, I’d be happy to un-shelf them for you!

One more thing. In case you’re wondering, we haven’t been able to track down who made these scrapbooks, so if you have any clues to the mystery, let us know! 

Further research

Excellent article written on this subject from the Florida Museum Herbarium and link to the preserved plant collection at University of Florida and University of South Florida.




Trail Tech

Ready to hit the trails this season, but looking for a few fun new tools? Check out these apps for your smartphone  that can help take your trek to the next tech level.

You can use your phone for more than selfies, Mr. Bear.

IveGot1: This app from FWC is for reporting sightings of non-native invasive animals, like pythons, which have been spotted within the CREW Project. Get as much information as you can, including photos of tracks. Just remember when taking a photo to place something, like a coin or a pen or a tube of chapstick next to the track to help with noting the size. (http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/reporting-hotline/)

WeatherBug: This app has a program within the app called Spark which will show how close lightning is to your location. When should you find shelter and get far away from lightning? We say follow the pool rule – if lightning is within ten miles, get to shelter. Florida is the lightning captial of the United States and it is always better to be safe than sorry.

PlantNet: Can’t remember the name of that pretty purple flower? You can jog your memory with the use of this app and maybe correctly identify the plant. This is part of a global project so, if your plant isn’t in the app, you can help by adding it! Check out this shot of a flower I took by our office, then searched for, and quickly identified!

Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab: This app lets you load bird packs (birds in your area) so you can tailor the app to where you are, or where you are travelling to.

Peterson Bird Identifier & Field Guide: They had me at field guide. This includes over 800 species of North American Birds and looks enough like your hardcover field guide that you’ll feel right at home.

Audubon Bird Guide: Reviews say it is the best free bird field guide available and it lists nearby observations. You can log your sightings and connect to a social community of birders. And, if you love owls, check out the Audubon Owl Guide app.

AllTrails: This app is one we are starting to use ourselves to get our trails out to the world! This app lets you explore trails and check out reviews. It’s also helpful if you are looking to explore more trails in the area (and more of our trails) or heading out of town on vacation and want to scope out the local landscape.


Strolling Science Seminar: Murder, Mutualism and Medicine

Love chocolate? Love caffeine?

If you do, then you are familiar with natural products produced by plants.

Join CREW Land & Water Trust and Dr. Maureen Bonness for an informative guided walk through Bird Rookery Swamp, located at 1295 Shady Hollow Blvd. in Naples, on Saturday, March 18 at 9 a.m.

Dr. Bonness will discuss plant natural products and how these products have profound effects in swamp ecology, including the interactions between plants and their swamp co-inhabitants. Toxins, colorants, scents, herbs and medicines are all plant natural products that humans use. While many plant products are used for their beneficial properties, some are used nefariously.

Tickets are  $15 for members and $25 for non-members; reservations are required and spaces are limited. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit eventbrite.com.

Guided Hikes at CREW Trails Starting in November

guided hike

Join our excellent volunteers for an entertaining and informative 2.5-hour guided walk on a portion of the Bird Rookery Swamp trails near Naples, FL. Learn the history, see wildlife and enjoy the view.BRS eventbrite pic


  • Wednesdays (9:00 – 11:30 AM) – November through April
  • 1st Sundays (1:30 – 4 PM) – November through April
  • 4th Saturdays (9 – 11:30 AM) – November through August

The Bird Rookery Swamp Trail is part of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (owned by the South Florida Water Management District). It includes a 1500 ft. boardwalk and nearly 12 miles of raised trails on old railroad trams. The cypress/maple swamp is home to wading birds, owls, deer, bear, panther, bobcat, limpkins, and much more.

Register ahead at: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/bird-rookery-swamp-guided-walks-tickets-17327245257


Join CREW Land & Water Trust volunteer and FL Master Naturalist, Dr. David Cooper, for a humorous and informative 2.5 to 3-hour guided walk at the CREW Marsh Hiking Trails. Learn about the watershed as a whole, view wildflowers, animal signs, birds, butterflies, and more.marsh trails for eventbrite

  • 1st and 3rd Tuesday (9:00-12:00) November-April
  • 2nd Saturday  (9:00-12:00) November-April


The CREW Marsh Trails are part of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (owned by the South Florida Water Management District). These trails meander through pine flatwoods, along the edge of the marsh, to oak hammock and popash slough. The Marsh Trails are home to FL black bears, FL panthers, bobcats, limpkins, many songbirds, and more.

Register ahead at: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/crew-marsh-trails-guided-walks-registration-17800793653



Bike the Loop: Bird Rookery Swamp

Like to bike? Come out to Bird Rookery Swamp on February 27th, 2015 from 9 am- 1pm and  join CREW Trust volunteers Peter Tomlinson and Jan Watson for a guided  tour of the picturesque 12-mile loop. 

View beautiful scenery, great wildlife, and enjoy the company of like-minded souls.

Activity Level: Strenuous-This is a trail ride on uneven, soft, grassy/sandy trails. Ground level with swamp on both sides of the trail.

BRING YOUR OWN BICYCLE: Mountain, hybrid or fat tire bikes are recommended. Not appropriate for road bicycles. CREW does NOT provide bikes for this tour. 

Space is limited to first 20 riders that register, so use the link below and sign up fast:





Celebrate Spring Wildflowers with Special Hikes at CREW


The CREW Trails are spectacular showcases for wildflowers in the springtime. The CREW Marsh Trails and the Cypress Dome Trails are particularly bountiful. We are already seeing a few grass pink orchids (Calapogon tuberosus) popping up along the trail edges, along with sneezeweed, shiny blueberries, marsh pinks, violets, a variety of milkworts, and much more.

To celebrate and help you enjoy these flowers, we have two special wildflower walks scheduled for early April:

glen stacell wf hike
Glen Stacell

Roger Hammer
Roger Hammer

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