Perhaps you’ve noticed orange-barred sulphur (P. philea) butterflies flitting through the sky lately. They are a member of the sulphur and white family of butterflies, which includes cloudless sulphurs (Phoebis sennae), large orange sulphurs (Colias eurytheme), and the great Southern white (Ascia monuste) butterfly.
The sulphurs are most often found around their larval host plants in the genus Senna, several of which are native to Florida. The adult butterflies lay their eggs on Senna plants, and when the eggs hatch, the caterpillars feed on the plant. Two of these native host plants are commonly found in cultivation and make great additions to a butterfly-friendly yard. Bahama cassia (Senna mexicana var. chapmanii) reaches heights and widths of 3 to 5 feet high and take full sun, while privet cassia (Senna ligustrina) grows to 6 to 8 feet tall (and is taller than wide) and prefers a little shade.
In the spring and fall, both species produce buttery yellow flowers, which sulphur caterpillars seem to prefer for a midday snack. If they are not eaten by caterpillars, the flowers are followed by seed pods that look similar to small pea pods (appropriate, as they are in the pea family).
Though both plants are relatively short-lived, at 3 to 5 years, each produces many seeds, and new plants can quickly replace older plants in the landscape. Both species are easy to grow, and provide the dual purpose of feeding young caterpillars as well as providing nectar to the adults. They also have the added benefit of being attractive in your yard!