There was a time when it was thought that Atala butterflies were extinct, but in recent years they have returned and are now relatively common in south Florida. And it is all down to one native plant that was disappearing from the landscape. This was the only plant on which the atala lay eggs. To learn more read this article by Susannah Nesmith which I found on the Horticulture Magazine website.
I watched the coontie plants in my back yard for years, keeping weeds away from them, admiring their glossy, feather-like fronds forming neat, symmetrical mounds. They?re pretty in their own right, but I had planted them with a goal that went beyond aesthetics. I wanted atalas.
Two atala butterflies emerge from their chrysalides on a coontie, the only plant on which they lay eggs.
It took nine years, but finally last summer I spotted the beautiful black-and-blue butterflies flitting around the back yard.
Atalas have an unusual conservation story. Once thought extinct, they are now relatively common in south Florida, all because people like me planted coonties, the only plant they lay eggs on.
History of the Coontie Plant
The coontie (Zamia integrifolia), a native cycad, used to be common in Florida?s pinelands. Native Americans harvested their stems for starch, but up until the late nineteenth century, south Florida was so sparsely populated that the harvesting didn?t make much of a dent in the plant population. In the early twentieth century, white settlers industrialized the process, and then development gobbled up the pinelands.
A turnaround came when landscapers discovered how versatile and sturdy coonties are. Now they?re planted in parking-lot medians and back yards all over Florida. And the atala population is booming.
See more at Horticulture Magazine