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