About this time each year we watch Monarch butterflies float about our gardens and reflect on their silent beauty. They are in the midst of their migration down Mexico way, and they are very, very hungry. We congratulate ourselves for providing plenty of nectar plants like asters, Joe-Pye weed and goldenrods, but have we considered their offspring? Although fall is when Monarchs show their full-grown faces in my part of the world, we should also be thinking of them in spring and plant various milkweeds for egg laying.
You see, being queenly butterflies, little Monarch princes and princesses want to feast upon only one type of food, milkweeds, and this food source is disappearing throughout the United States due to land cultivation and changing times. Monarch larvae, like all members of the family Nymphalidae, brush-footed butterflies in the subfamily, Danainae, eat only milkweeds.
So, what does that mean to gardeners throughout the world? We need to plant more milkweeds, and in America, we should grow our native ones because many are in danger of disappearing. Asclepias curassavica, although beautifully colored, is native to Mexico.
You think there are no native milkweeds? Au contraire, my friend. There are approximately 110 species in North America with seventy-three species native to the U.S. One of the easiest to find and grow is A. incarnata, or pink swamp milkweed. As its name suggests, it likes the wet places in your garden, and like most native milkweeds, it is a short-lived perennial. You can buy swamp milkweed at Bustani Plant Farm and Wild Things Nursery. Wild Things, which specializes in native and butterfly plants, has four, different, native milkweeds to offer including swamp milkweed. With a quick search, I also found Milkweed Farm, which has a huge selection of native and non-native types, but I’ve yet to buy from them–and it appears they haven’t updated their site in a long time.
Another good thing about our native milkweeds is that they are perennial. Although listed some places as hardy to Zones 7 thru 10, I’ve never known tropical milkweeds to be perennial in my part of Oklahoma. I also noticed when I grew tropical ones they were continually covered in aphids. I don’t usually see a lot of aphids on swamp milkweed.
Swamp milkweed has taken a couple of seasons to establish in my garden, and because the soil it’s growing in is too rich, it does tend to flop over. I might move it to leaner spot next summer. It is tall, about four to five feet and sports a lovely puff of pink blooms atop its slender stalk. The color is a dusty pink. By now, it’s into seed production, and I’ve taken many pictures of the blowing seeds. I think I’ll plant some of them in the prairie meadow garden and maybe spread a few at Mitch Park since it’s a native. Yes, that’s exactly what I think I’ll do. I’ll wait on moving my plant just in case. I don’t want to disturb any chrysalises.
If you want to help our Monarchs who had a bad winter in 2010 and now a difficult 2011 summer, plant some native milkweeds like A. incarnata. They’ll thank you by soaring to new heights over your garden. Because it doesn’t spread by rhizomes, swamp milkweed won’t take over your garden like A. syriaca, common milkweed. Plus, swamp milkweed smells like bubblegum. Yum.
This post was brought to you via our hostess, Gail of Clay and Limestone who works diligently to inform everyone about the beauty of natives in our landscapes. She sponsors Wildflower Wednesday this time each month. Many Tennessee natives are also native to Oklahoma so plant some of her suggestions too.