Saturday, January 26, 2019

Got Milkweed? Feeding Hungry Monarch Butterflies.

Credit: Kenneth Dwain Harrelson under GNU Free Documentation License

It's winter. Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) from the eastern U.S. are vacationing in Mexico, hanging around in trees and soaking up the sun. They've been doing this for a long time - no one knows how long - so it has become a family tradition with them. It won't be long, though, before the weather begins to warm and they'll head back north to feed and breed.

Aside from lepidopterophiles and passersby enjoying their beauty, few cared much about their habits. But that has changed. It is believed that Monarch populations are diminishing, so saving their species has become a cause célèbre

Everyone seems to be getting in on the act. Botanical gardens are establishing butterfly gardens with favored enticements, especially milkweed. "Enlightened" homeowners are letting their yards spring up with weeds, ostensibly to save the monarch. (Neighbors might think they're just lazy.)

Butterfly friendly landscape with milkweed

If you'd like to "save the monarchs", or just spend less time weeding, and mask your sloth with altruism, consider including milkweed in your landscape. There are several native species to choose from:

Clasping Milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) grows in dry, sandy soils and likes lots of sunshine. It can reach 3½ feet in height. Leaves are shaded with pink. The fragrant flowers are pink to purple, and bloom in early to mid-summer. In addition to monarchs, they also attract hummingbirds, bees and other species of butterflies.

Mountain or Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) grows on moist, shady areas in cooler climates. It grows to 6 feet in height. Flowers are white and green.

Eastern Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata var. pulchra) prefers wet areas such as bog gardens. Its stems are 2-6 feet in height. The pale to deep pink flowers open July through September. In addition to monarchs, it attracts other buttefly species and nectar loving critters. 

Fourleaf Milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia) likes full to partial sun and dry soils. Soil pH should be a bit on the high side, so add a little lime. Fragrant flowers are cream to lilac. It grows to 2.5 feet.

Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a common roadside flower. Clumps of branching stems reach 2.5 feet in height and bear large clusters of wildly brilliant orange blossoms that attract all sorts of nectar-lovers. It flowers mid- to late summer. Some cultivated varieties display mixed yellow and orange flowers.

Red-ring Milkweed (Asclepias variegata) likes sunny areas with dry to moist soils. It is an impressive plant, producing white, snowball-like flowers on purplish stems to 3 feet tall. The "red-ring" refers to a thin, colorful ring that surrounds the middle of the flower. It also attracts a host of nectar-loving creatures. Flowers appear May to June.

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) thrives in dry to moist soils in sun to partial shade. Note that soil pH should be near 7.0.  Slender, branched stems produce whorls of long, narrow leaves and loads of small flower clusters from June through September. The flowers are white to pale green, sometimes with a hint of purple.

For those of you who contend with pesky deer, you'll be pleased to know that deer hate milkweeds because of the irritating, milky latex which most produce. (Thus, the name, "milkweed".)

If you would like to learn more about monarch butterflies in your area, contact your state department of natural resources or one of the organizations linked below.

Do you have questions? Contact us at goGardenNow.

Comments? Please post in the comment section. We'd love to hear from you.

Here are the web links:

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 
Arizona Game and Fish Department
Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality
California Department of Fish and Game
Colorado Department of Natural Resources
Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Idaho Department of Environmental Quality
Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation
Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources
North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
Washington State Department of Natural Resources
West Virginia Division of Natural Resources
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Butterfly Houses at
Butterfly Feeders at
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation  

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