MILKWEED AND MONARCHS

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

SPICEBUSH SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY

The Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio Troilus) looks much like the Black Swallowtail but for an orange dot that is missing on the underside of the hindwing (lower wings). It ranges on the East Coast from Canada to Florida and, similarly, from the Great Lakes to East Texas in the Midwest.  A smaller subspecies, Papilio troilus ilioneus is found mostly in Florida.

 

HABITAT

Deciduous woodlands, fields, pine barrens, roadsides, wooded swamps, and yards on sunny days.

 

APPEARANCE

The forewing (upper wings) is black with ivory spots along the edge. The hindwing has fluorescent blue or green color with that same color appearing in the hindwing spots. Where the hindwings come together are two orange spots. The underside of the hindwing also has two rows of orange spots. Between these spots, a faded version of the color on the upper hindwing seems to bleed through from the front. Wing span is from 3 to 4 inches.

Spicebush Swallowtail black with blue markings and two orange eyes with tails near middle tail of wing
Spicebush Swallowtail slightly out of focus
Photo by Cee

 

Spicebush Butterfly on Yesterday Today and Tomorrow Bush
Spicebush Butterfly on Yesterday Today and Tomorrow Bush

 

Spicebush swallowtail with wings not quite flat on red penta
Spicebush swallowtail on red penta
Photo by Cee

 

Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly on Powder Puff
Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly on Powder Puff

 

My favorite book for identifying butterflies is the Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America: The easiest guides for fast identification by Jim P. Brock and Kenn Kaufman (2003). I also use two pamphlets published by the Florida Museum of Natural History (University of Florida) Monarchs and Milkweeds and Florida Wildflowers & Butterflies which I picked up free at a gardening event. The two pamphlets are almost the same size as my Kaufman Field Guide making the Guide the perfect place to store them.

LIFE CYCLE

Adult butterflies breed during the summer when food is abundant. The female carefully chooses a host plant for the egg and leaves. The egg looks like a bright, white pearl found on the underside of leaves. After 4 – 10 days, the larval stage begins with a caterpillar that initially camouflages itself as bird droppings. During the caterpillar stage, which lasts 3 to 4 weeks, it will fold itself inside a leaf edge to resemble a snake with two large false eyes. The caterpillar may even change color as it matures. From there, it enters the chrysalis stage for another 10 to 20 days. Once the butterfly hatches, it will live as an adult for 6 to 14 days.

 

WHAT TO PLANT FOR THE SPICEBUSH SWALLOWTAIL

Host plants – Obviously, the Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is a good choice if it grows in your Zone, and the Sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum), Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana), Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora), and Redbay (Persea borbonia).

Nectar plants – Azalea, Dogbane, Japanese Honeysuckle, Jewelweed, Lantana, Milkweed, Purple Coneflower, Sunflower, Sweet Pepperbush, Thistles.