For the past several years, the only milkweed that I had found available in local nurseries was the tropical kind, and so I had planted it in my garden where it has thrived. It lives through the winter here, although it generally dies back to the roots, and I usually cut it back several times during the year. Cutting it back supposedly reduces the toxins which may cause problems for butterflies, and, if it isn't cut back, it gets quite spindly and gangly and not very attractive. But the butterflies seemed to like it. Maybe because there wasn't an alternative for them.
So, I decided to give them an alternative.
After reviewing my options, I decided to order some seeds from Botanical Interests during this past winter. I planted the seeds of butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and started the plants under my grow-lights.
Most of the seeds germinated and the plants thrived, so by late spring, I had two trays of native milkweed to plant in my garden. I put the plants outside for hardening off and planned how I would monitor both these plants and the tropical milkweed, which was already up and blooming, to try to determine if the butterflies actually showed a preference.
It didn't take long to get the first data from my unofficial milkweed field trial. By the time I went to put my native plants into my garden beds, I found that, in spite of the fact that the plants were still small and had no blooms, several of them already had tiny Monarch caterpillars on them! Meanwhile, all the tropical plants were bushy and healthy and blooming and notably caterpillar-free. The Monarchs had spoken loudly and clearly: They preferred the native plants.
And that has continued to be case. Here is a look at some of my plants today.
|And here is some of the tropical milkweed, healthy and blooming. These last few days, I have noted a few Monarch butterflies visiting these plants. Once again, until the native plants grow back, they have little alternative if they have eggs to lay.|
|There are some Monarch eggs scattered about on this plant. I expect to see caterpillars soon.|
My advice to gardeners based on my findings is to locate native plants or get the seeds and start your own and plant them in your garden. Your butterflies will thank you.