Sustainable Living: Butterfly expert Anita Camacho

Sustainable Living guest Anita Camacho.

This week we talked with Anita Camacho. She is the owner of Little Red Wagon Native Nursery.

About our guest

She is the President and Founder of Tampa Bay Butterfly Foundation, Inc, and the Tampa Bay Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association.

Anita Camacho, CPA is a life-long Floridian from the Tampa Bay area. Her organizations work together to conserve butterflies, monitor populations and restore/plant their habitats. Educating the public to explain the importance of our ecosystems.

My takeaways from the show

DO NOT plant nonnative milkweed. Asclepias curassavica and Calotropis giganteana are not currently considered invasive species in Florida. HOWEVER, the assessment does suggest “caution” as to manage to prevent escape” for growers in South Florida. BUT They carry an overabundance of OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha is an obligate, neogregarine protozoan parasite that infects monarch and queen butterflies.) and Tropical milkweed also has a higher concentration of cardenolides, which may affect monarchs in the caterpillar stage of their life cycle.

Don’t Kill aphids on milkweed. Aphids protect the 1st and 2nd instar of monarch caterpillars. They also provide food for other insects and some birds. It is insignificant as they do VERY little damage to the plant.

Chemical usage

Don’t use chemicals. Anita found after her mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at 50 researched and put the chemicals associated with gardening in that era to neurological diseases. Of course, she stopped using them. In just 6 months without chemicals on her roses, the bushes redeveloped their natural defense mechanisms to resist diseases. Plus by planting “butterfly plants” they draw “pest insects” away from the roses.


Lots of butterflies and moths overwinter on the ground. So, leave your leaf litter and be cautious when trimming as the chrysalis are brown and disappear in the landscape. ALSO, we have native wild bees, and most don’t have a stinger. AND they are better pollinators!

The best tree to plant is the oak. It is a keystone species that supports 600 species of animals and 90 species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths).

Our butterflies (and other insects) are the

“Bell weather” of ecosystems. The more you see, the better we are doing.

DON’T rear butterflies at home. The insect’s lay lots of eggs in nature to compensate for loss (eating by other creatures) and we are not professionally trained so are perpetuating diseases and weakened species.

If you want to do a couple for fun… that’s fine but “saving” every caterpillar is killing them.

Nectar Plants

Don’t forget to plant lots of nectar plants…. Not just host plants. (Lots of varieties and petal size) And remember milkweed is only a host plant to monarch, queen, and soldier butterfly. We have 200 species that migrate and 125 resident ones. They each have different host plants.

Passion vines host Gulf Fritillary, the Zebra Longwing, and the Julia.

Zebra Swallowtails need the Paw Paw and the soursop trees. Eastern Black swallowtails need parsley, dill, or fennel.

In fact, Paw Paw trees drop leaves in winter (zebra swallowtails are gone in winter) A moth caterpillar eats the old growth from the Paw Paw, which encourages new.

The zebra swallowtail caterpillars only eat fresh growth so that is where the female lays her eggs. AND the scarab beetle is the plant pollinator.

So, all are needed to complete the circle of life.

So, Research lots of host plants for your area.

Kenny shared that at different times of the year at dusk he gets a gathering of tiger swallowtails and zebra long-wings on trees to sleep together.

We relearned that a cluster of butterflies is called a KALEIDOSCOPE. So, encourage movement and color with more insects in your garden!

Make SURE to Tune in next Monday morning at 11 for the next Sustainable Living Show. We will have Michelle James Hydroponic Tomato grower and massive garden enthusiast.


Camps for children, butterfly hikes

Growing perennial foods in your garden

Jan. 15, 2023 1-3pm Sweetwater Organic Farm

Kenny Coogan Speaking Engagements:

Plant City Garden Club

Monday 9th, 9:00 am-12:00pm

Temple Terrace Garden Club

Wednesday 11th, 9:00am-12:00pm

New World Brewery

Wednesday 11th, 6:30pm (3 speakers)

Listen on demand to Monday’s Show!

Volunteer opportunities:

****Continued monthly maintenance of gardens to provide much needed habitats for pollinators while greatly benefiting the residents. Done with a great group of volunteers with the ongoing projects with the Florida Aquarium at Center for Conservation, Tampa Housing Authority at Encore Technology Park, Fred Ball Park, and our Foundation’s own Butterfly Alley native plant demonstration garden.

Camps for Kids:

***Funded scholarships for students at underserved schools for our kids’ camps, making TBBF’s education camps available to all learners. Our Nature Camps were voted “Best in Florida” this year by Guide to

Visit Little Red Wagon Native Nursery and learn how to start your own butterfly garden!


Follow The Little Red Wagon Native Nursery and Tampa Bay Butterfly Foundation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

@Butterfly_Tampa on Instagram

@Butterfly_Tampa on Twitter

Remember if you are looking for someone to save the world – look in the mirror!

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