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  • Writer's pictureBrice Claypoole

Butterfly Daisies

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

Butterfly daisies (Bidens alba formerly known as Bidens Pilosa, though there is still some controversy and B. pilosa is sometimes recognized as a separate introduced species).

When I walk out into my yard, I see all the fancy native plants my family and I planted for the pollinators. The elephant’s foot plant (Elephantopus species), blazing stars (Liatris spicata and Liatris gracilis), Florida green eyes (Berlandiera subacaulis), and many others all attract pollinators. But few of them come anything near the pollinator attracting abilities of the native butterfly daisies also known as Spanish needles, beggar’s ticks, monkey’s lice, and butterfly needles.

The butterfly daisies came up by themselves and they do not need to be reseeded; they do that all by themselves. You only need one plant to fill in an entire flowerbed. I guess this is why it is often portrayed as a “weed”. One nature preserve in our area is even ripping them out. Butterfly daisies have taken over our whole yard, but they leave room for the other plants. Butterfly daisies have pointy

seeds (that’s why they are sometimes called Spanish needles) that like to stick to things. These sticky little seeds don’t hurt, but many people find them annoying (though I find them a small price to pay for swarms of butterflies). One article from Simply Living calls butterfly daisies “demon spike grass”. Can’t we except that some plants spread “exuberantly” as I like to say, and produce sticky seeds and leave butterfly daisies as a small kindness to the pollinators? Can’t we think of the butterflies instead of just what we think is aesthetically pleasing? My family has a saying that “a weed is a flower in the wrong place”. But can we really say a native “weed” is in the wrong place when we are the ones who invaded its home range?

Even those who dismiss this wonderful (and exuberant) plant as a weed, should admit that it is pretty. And that’s not the only reason it is so great, pollinators flock to the butterfly daisies. Butterfly daisies are the 3rd largest source of honey in Florida. More than 100 species of butterflies and more than 30 species of bees have been seen visiting butterfly daisies. Click here to see iNaturalist observations of animals visiting butterfly daisies. At the bottom of the iNaturalist page you will see there are many other pages you can look through.

I have planted many natives, but very few have surpassed the butterfly daisies, who, on account of them being so generous with their nectar and pollen, are allowed to pop up wherever they want. So, unlike the desolate, sad, lifeless turf grass yards around us, our yard teams with over 40 species of butterflies and moths and over 15 species of bees. When grown in areas that retain a bit of moisture, butterfly daisies can grow into three-foot-tall, well rounded shrubs. The neighbor has let butterfly daisies take over their yard and it is a sight to behold. We once had a butterfly daisy flower in a vase and bees kept coming to it!

Another great thing about butterfly daisies is the fact that in warmer areas they never stop blooming. So, you’ll get bees and butterflies year-round.

Here are some pictures of the pollinators visiting the butterfly daisies (we have hundreds of visitors each day, so I can’t show them all):

The coffee-loving pyrausta moth

No, luckily coffee-loving pyrausta moths (Uresiphita reversalis) will not drink your coffee! The caterpillars eat native wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa), as well as creeping beggarweed (Desmodium incanum) and the adults love butterfly daisies.

The mangrove buckeye

This mangrove buckeye (Junonia neildi) left the mangrove swamps and ventured through the whole neighborhood to get to the butterfly daisies.

The furrow bee

The tiny poey’s furrow bees (Halictus poeyi) are dwarfed by the butterfly daisy flowers.

The dainty sulphur

Butterfly daisies are this dainty sulphur’s host plant. I like their pale green eyes.

If you want to do something to help save the pollinators, the first step is to let the butterfly daisies or whatever species of Bidens that live in your area grow. Let the butterfly daisies grow!

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