I’ve had a secret love affair with Zinnias since I arranged flowers for 4-H fairs in the late 1970s in Maryland. Zinnias always kept their form and beauty as cut flowers in arrangements.
As a Florida butterfly gardener, I was excited to be able to grow Elegant Zinnia. According to the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants Institute for Systemic Botany, Zinnia elegans or Elegant Zinnia is not native to Florida, but it has become naturalized in central Florida.
Zinnia provides nectar for a variety of butterflies including the medium-sized Gulf fritillary butterfly with orange wings and black markings.
Although a recent Gulf fritillary that flittered about my yard had its choice of various flowers such as lantana and tall pentas, it continually returned to the tall purple Zinnia blooms.
Zinnia flowers belong to the aster family. Named after a German botanist, Johann Zinn, Zinnia look a little bit like daisies. They come in almost every color of the rainbow. The genus is native to Mexico, southwestern U. S. and Central America.
Follow these tips for growing Elegant Zinnia:
No. 1: Grow in full sun. Depending if you live in more tropical areas of Florida, you may be able to get away with what seems to you like part shade especially if you are growing a cultivar such as “Envy.”
No. 2: Infrequently water your Zinnia. That’s part of what makes them Florida-friendly pants – they don’t require excessive watering and can be used for Xeriscaping.
No. 3: Expect your Zinnia to die during a frost.
No. 4: Avoid transplanting Zinnia.
No. 5: Sow seeds after the last frost. I’ve had success sowing seeds in the late summer as well for fall blooms in the Tampa area.
No. 6: Try growing zinnias as part of mass plantings for your butterfly garden.
No. 7: Unlike native Florida plants that don’t need unique soil conditions, your Zinnia likes fertile soil. Compost your kitchen produce and egg shells (not meats, cheeses or breads). Composting doesn’t need to be complicated. Just throw the kitchen produce scraps in a bowl, dig a hole near your garden and plop it down, covering with soil. As it decomposes, it will feed your plants.
No: 8: Leave your Zinnia to mature, and cross your fingers that your Zinnia self-seeds.
No. 9: People have different opinions about which color Zinnia attract the most butterflies. I do know red Zinnia is loved by hummingbirds. Hummingbirds appreciate a mass planting of red Zinnia. Tall purple Zinnia attracts butterflies in my garden.
No. 10: Zinnia is a nectar plant for butterflies so plant host plants nearby such as passion vines. I have a lot of Gulf fritillary in my Florida butterfly garden every year since I grow (in the sun) several passion vines – the larval host plant. The Gulf fritillary is particular to the corky-stemmed passionflower (P suberosa) which is just around the corner from my Elegant Zinnia flowers. If you want to attract the state butterfly, Zebra Longwing, grow passion vines in the shade.
Without a doubt, Zinnias make beautiful cut flowers to display in the house. Plant enough Zinnias for the butterflies and for yourself!