MILKWEED AND MONARCHS

Post last updated: January 5th, 2019

Like all gardeners, I love seeing butterflies flit through the landscape. It provides a momentary feeling of all-is-right-with-the world. The Florida Museum of Natural History has a great color photo identification guide for Florida butterflies.

For several years, I have been trying to landscape my yard with the plants butterflies want. My efforts have not always been successful because many of these plants were lost to winter freezes. It is not uncommon in Northeast Florida for winter temperatures to fall below freezing. One memorable year it fell to 7 degrees Fahrenheit (°F)  ( -13.89 Celsius).

Last year, my friend Cecelia gave me a Tropical Milkweed Asclepias Curassavica from her yard. She had no trouble getting them to come back year after year. I hoped for better luck with her milkweed plant acclimatized to Florida than the nursery specimens being trucked in from Who Knows Where. Sure enough, her milkweed came back this year.  Seeds I saved from it also sprouted this year. The main plant that she gave me is a good 3 or 4 feet tall this year.

My tropical milkweed plant
My tropical milkweed plant

 

Close-up of monarch caterpillars near maturity and 7 green milkweed seed pods. When brown, they will crack open and expose brown seeds attached to furry silk..
Close-up of monarch caterpillars near maturity and 7 green milkweed seed pods. When brown, they will crack open and expose brown seeds attached to furry silk.

 

There are one hundred species of Asclepias in the United States, two hundred species worldwide. The Tropical Milkweed plant I got from Cecelia is a favorite of the egg-laying female monarch. Another favorite is the Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnate (both pink or white flowering versions). Milkweed plants are “host” plants and the only food source for monarch caterpillars. It is also a nectar source for swallowtails, painted ladies, American ladies, red admirals, fritillaries and hairstreaks.  On our property I’ve seen giant swallowtails, Gulf fritillary, and Zebra longwing. I have not seen a monarch butterfly although I see them in abundance at Cecelia’s.

Wellllll… Last night I discovered four monarch caterpillars on my plant from Cecelia’s.

Future Monarch Butterfly

There might be more but I didn’t want to get too close now that the plant has caterpillars. Let’s face it. A worm is a worm is a worm even if it will one day be a monarch butterfly. Check out National Geographic’s article on monarch migration or this short video by Boyd Matson:

 

Last Updated: November 2, 2018

20 thoughts on “MILKWEED AND MONARCHS”

  1. I want some butterflies. Do I qualify? For heavens sake, I’m family. Come on give me some seeds.

    1. You qualify under the Florida part but it ain’t happenin. Why would I give seeds to someone who refuses to play in the dirt? I’ll give you a small plant that I grew from seed this year. You’ll have to water it, feed it, nurture it and maybe you’ll get butterflies.

    1. Ha! That’s too funny. I’m a slow photographer with a Canon Rebel that has developed a shutter button that sticks. By the time I’ve turned the camera or shaken it to make it stop sticking, whatever critter I was trying to capture is Long Gone. Urban Farm Magazine had an article on some orangey-colored raised beds that you could build like Lincoln Logs. Some of their readers asked about it but they don’t have a clue who manufactures it and the photo was taken in England. Have you seen anything like that?

      1. Thank goodness for google – I had to look up what Lincoln Logs are! Raised beds are really popular over here as they help drainage (loads of rain) and the soil warms up sooner (not much sunshine!). I’ll have a look and see if I can find any links x

        1. PJ – Unable to imagine English children not having Lincoln Logs, I looked them up on Google myself. Not what I meant, at all. However, my pitiful memory can’t cough up the name of the colorful, plastic interlocking building blocks (small pieces).

  2. Beautiful caterpillar!

    I avoid handling them, because I don’t want to injure them, not because of any squeamishness… those babies are delicate.

    In the autumn, I’ll dig one of those tropical milkweeds, and over-winter it inside. As long as the plant isn’t cut back, it does fine. I’ve dug them for other people and they killed the plants with that insane need to tidy.

    In the spring, I’ll take cuttings and root them in soil. If there’s enough room in the sun-room, I’ll root the cuttings through the winter.

    1. Hey Stone — I’ve already got too much that goes into a very small greenhouse for the winter. No sunroom, either. If we have a hard winter, I’ll just regrow from seeds. I had a lot of luck with seeds planted in pots this year. Seeds that fell to the ground didn’t sprout. Cuttings would definitely be faster. Good idea. I’m hoping to catch some photos of these caterpillars as they morph. Can’t figure out why they have “antlers” at both ends. Where’d you get the milkweed that looks like a starfish. Can’t stop thinking about it. Does it also act as a host plant?

        1. Stone – I thought I had clicked through to every link you posted and don’t remember the hawthornhill website being in one of your previous comments but anything is possible with my pitiful memory. Nice that they are trying to preserve native plants. I found a Florida plant atlas that indicates it grows in my county but I suwannee I’ve never seen it.

  3. I have two lantana plants that have been bringing all the butterflies to the yard, though I must give credit to the nearby tangerine tree that attracts the swallowtails.

    1. But the milkweed specifically brings the monarchs, Dena. Since you are recent ex-Florida, you want me to mail you some milkweed seeds? I sure wish you could send me a big rock from the Arbuckles for my landscaping, sigh. As you know, Florida is rockless swampland and we can’t grow our own. Can’t grow peonies or astilbe, either. Will you be able to do peonies?

      1. Consequently, I’m back in Florida for an indeterminate amount of time. Matt and I have a book about what veggies to start growing and what works best in central Oklahoma, but now that I think about it – I know nothing about my chances of success with certain flowers. Milkweed sounds wonderful and I’m going to try to add a lot of native plants to our spring garden. I’ve already got a pot of Indian Blanket and black-eyed susans going back in OKC. Here’s to hoping!

          1. Thanks – yes! I would like seeds. We’ll figure out something for them in Oklahoma and it’ll be nice to have a bit of Florida in our garden!

          2. Hi Dena — I’ll be happy to share my seeds. I don’t wish to “publish” my email address and I got rid of my “contact me” after a spammer reached me through it and, I think, gave me a virus (late April). I moderate all comments. You can put the address you wish to use inside a comment and I’ll get it but delete the comment.

  4. I did a lot of research on butterflies for my book The Butterfly Game. It was amazing how many had women’s names and then I worked their characteristics in so that the human victim had some of the same characteristics as the butterfly with her name.

    My cousin says she’ll never look at butterflies the same again, but I still LOVE to see them flitting around. It’s like seeing a dolphin when you’re by the water or a rainbow. It just makes everything seem like it will be okay.

      1. I am feeling better. Don’t know when I’ll be back at work. Hopefully some time next week. Have to wait for the doctor’s ok and I go see him next Wednesday. My mom brought a cocoon in one summer and the kids watched this huge moth emerge. I think it was quite a bit more freaky than beautiful but still amazing.

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