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What’s Blooming in Paradise: Milkweed is the host plant for many butterfly species

By Staff | Jun 22, 2016

Plant Subject: Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica )

First impression: Unique looking tiny flowers what are whirly-kinda-wheel shaped which are segmented with upper red petals and lower orange-yellow petals. The matte green leaves are lanceolate with milky white sap emerging from all parts of this herb when broken. I notice butterflies flying all around and laying their eggs on the undersides of its leaves. You can observe this most important weed and all its admirers in your paradise garden.

Upon further investigation: Three reasons why Monarchs butterflies populations are dwindling: milkweed, milkweed and milkweed. Our under-used star is the host plant for three Florida butterflies: Monarch, Queen and Soldier. A host plant is the one plant that each species of butterfly will lay their eggs on and is essential for their survival.

Mother Monarchs utilize Milkweed to lay oodles of single elliptical whitish to pale green eggs right on the underside of its leaves. Like most milkweeds, it has a milky sap when pruned. This natural toxin when consumed by the caterpillar renders him toxic, which is a great survival technique for would be hungry predators. The sweet flowers do double duty and also serve as a nectar plant.

Milkweed isn’t grown for its looks, it is leggy and twiggy growing about three to four feet tall with leaves about five inches long. The fruits are spindle shaped pods, three to four inches long, and eventually split open to release little flat seeds that drift away on silky parachutes. These air borne seeds allow our star show up all over your garden.

Once you plant this in your garden, prepare yourself for the nibbled leaves and stripped stems, which is a result of the never ending eating of Monarch and/or Queen Caterpillars. I nestle my milkweed in between other nectar plants (aka flowers), which helps hide the stubs and its unsightliness. New growth is fairly fast and ready for the next hungry caterpillars. Remember, butterfly gardeners have to re-evaluate insecticides as their use will interrupt the life cycle of the butterfly which is egg, larva, pupa and butterfly.

The Monarch Joint Venture is partnering across the U.S. to conserve the monarch migration. They are federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic programs that are working together to protect the monarch migration across the lower 48 United States (www.monarchjointventure.org).

They have sent out fact sheets about rumors concerning a link between tropical milkweed and a protozoan Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE), increasing the likelihood that monarchs become infected with the debilitating parasite. They have recommended that that tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) not be planted north of the latitude of Orlando, FL Great News!we can continue to plant our tropical milkweed!

Pros:

A must for all gardens in our plant zone

Does well in sandy soil

Likes full sun

Propagates everywhere

Neighbors will wonder why you have all the butterflies

Host plant for a 3 Butterflies

Pollinators love it!

Begins the new process of not blanket spraying your garden

Cons:

Non-native

Neighbors may be lurking in the bushes to find out your secret plant. Need to squish milkweed bugs

Re-think/tolerate caterpillars and nibbled leaves

Conclusion: A weed is any plant in the wrong place. Milkweed is in the right plant in every garden! Who would a thought, a weed could be so important in your tropical eye catching garden. Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!