Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Milkweeds in Your Garden by Linda Evans

Above: Mexican Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)

Many butterflies choose toxic host plants. When Monarchs, Queens, and Soldiers eat the leaves of milkweeds, they eat some of the toxins as well. If a bird eats, for example, a Monarch caterpillar or butterfly, it spits it out and avoids the Monarch and similar looking butterflies as their tasty treat. This is one of the protective mechanisms nature has given the butterflies. It is also the reason that, in our gardens, if we plant milkweeds, we can enjoy Monarch caterpillars from their first instar to adulthood.

Here are a few thoughts on gardening with milkweeds. Although there are many different native milkweed plants, many require specific soil conditions and are not readily available for purchase. The most common milkweed used in butterfly gardening today is the form from Mexico, Asclepias curassavica. It grows year round and is suitable for both the caterpillars to eat and the butterflies for nectaring.

Right: a native milkweed, Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa)

If you would like to try growing natives and can find them, a few are:

  • Asclepias verticillata, Horsetail milkweed. It is an erect, slender perennial that grows in dry, rocky soil with beautiful white flowers. The seeds look similar to the Mexican form.

  • A. lanceolata – Fewflower milkweed. The flowers are red to tangerine and grow in damp soil.

  • A. tuberosa – Butterfly weed. This is a pineland form of milkweed that requires acidic, well drained soil.

  • A longifoliaFlorida milkweed - Found in wet flatwoods.
Let us hear from you fellow gardeners. Tell us which native milkweed plants you have had luck with.

1 comment:

  1. Most of us who have planted Mexican Milkweed know this scene: you plant it, and it's eaten down to nothing. So you plant some more. Eaten to nothing. More. Nothing. Take heart -- in our experience, there simply comes a point when balance is achieved. The milkweeds begin to reproduce and the butterflies seem to adapt to the available resources. Now, we always seem to have a good supply of fresh foliage (along with many munched down plants) and a good supply of Monarchs in their life stages. Elane & Ron Nuehring