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
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 longifolia –
milkweed - Found in wet flatwoods. Florida