Whirling Butterflies (Gaura) Flowers Flit On The Breeze

Informal beach garden? Whirling Butterflies can take full sun & need little watering. Also learn about plants for shaded sites. FALL PLANT SALE.

Whirling Butterfly close-up photo (an Amelia Island garden) northeast Florida
Whirling Butterflies, Gaura lindheimeri, close-up photo (from Amelia Island garden)

EDITOR’S NOTE:  UF/IFAS County Extension Director for Nassau County and Horticulture Agent III, Rebecca Jordi addresses questions about landscaping and gardening in northeast Florida. She is also a University of Florida faculty member.___________

QUESTION: I noticed these wildflowers growing along a wooded area near my home and they look similar to the “Whirling Butterfly” plant also called Gaura which I have purchased at a local garden center. Do you know what they might be called? KW

JORDI: Believe it or not, scientists often develop ornamental plants found in retail stores from the native, wild specimens growing in our natural areas. The ornamental plant called Whirling Butterflies, Gaura lindheimeri, most often has white flowers which are produced on long, thin stalks making the flower appear to be a butterfly flitting on the breeze. There are other common cultivars of G. lindheimeri such as ‘Corrie’s Gold’, ‘Pink Cloud’ and ‘Crimson Butterflies’ which may be found at your local plant nursery. The cultivated ornamental gaura plants listed above range in heights from 2 – 4 feet. It would be important to know the potential mature height as the shorter ones should be planted in front of the taller ones.

Slender Gaura, Egans Greenway
Slender Gaura, Egans Greenway

The wildflower photo you sent me might be Slender Gaura or Slender Stalk Beeblossom, Gaura filipes. It is difficult to be certain but most of these plants are commonly known as beeblossom. The photo (right) I took from a cluster found locally at Egans Greenway. As you can see, the plant in the photo is similar to yours. Gaura or beeblossom plants, as their name suggests, attract bees which makes them a fun addition to any home garden. They fit well in any informal garden area that receives full sun and requires very little water or tending.

QUESTION: I need some small tree or shrub plant ideas for a very shady site. ND

JORDI: Consider layering by using shorter plants in the front and taller plants behind. For shorter plants you might use holly fern, coontie or Indian hawthorn. The taller shrubs could be viburnum, oakleaf hydrangea, yellow anise, cleyera, red buckeye or camellia. The red buckeye is a native plant and it puts out a red flower spike in the spring which attracts hummingbirds.

Camellias are slow growing evergreens but they will provide beautiful, showy flowers during the winter when nothing else is blooming. The yellow anise is a native evergreen shrub with pale, yellow-green leaves which smell like licorice when crushed. I have provided a few ideas but for a more complete list check out the University of Florida publication, “North Florida Plants for Shaded Sites.”

QUESTION: I have sandspurs growing all over my yard. How do I get rid of them? The seeds are sticking on the fur of my dogs and when I pet them, I get stuck. MB

JORDI: It is difficult to control any weed once it has reached the mature stages of producing flowers and seeds. Right now, removing the seed heads would be beneficial. If you have a bag attachment to your mower you can gather the seed heads while mowing to reduce the chance they will produce more weeds next year.

We do not recommend putting weed killer on lawns this time of year as the chemicals can stress or even kill the grass you wish to protect. The best management practice is to have a healthy lawn which means watering, mowing and fertilizing properly. If you have areas where the grass had died then the weeds have an opportunity to thrive.

A pre-emergent herbicide can be used to reduce the likelihood of seeds from the sandspur to germinate next year. This pre-emergent herbicide should be applied in the late winter or early spring. Look at the local garden centers for products used to control crabgrass and you will probably notice they are also used to manage sandspur. Please follow the directions on the label and apply at the appropriate time of year – late summer is too late. Painting glyphosate (Round-up) on the green leaves of the sandspur now will destroy the plant, too, but not necessarily the seed. Do not spray glyphosate as this chemical kills everything green – good grass as well.


Nassau County Master Gardeners will conduct their Fall plant sale on Friday, October 15 and Saturday, October 16, from 9 am until 2 pm.  Plants that have been propagated by Master Gardeners will be on sale. It will take place at the Yulee Extension office at 86026 Pages Dairy Road, rain or shine.  Come early for best selection.  For more information, call the Extension office at 904-491-7340 or 904-879-1019.

Rebecca Jordi, Nassau County Extension Director

Rebecca L. Jordi
County Extension Director
Environmental Horticulture Agent III
543350 U. S. Highway #1
Callahan, Florida 32011
904 491-7340