Milkweed for Monarchs: Part 1

What is it and where do I get it?

Among monarch caterpillar enthusiasts, a common cry for help is “Do you have milkweed you can spare?”

First off, you have to understand that for monarchs, milkweed is IT. It’s the Holy Grail. Their everything. If you want monarchs to come to your garden, you need to provide nectar plants for food and its particular host plant, milkweed, on which the females will lay their eggs. Nothing else will do.

Monarch caterpillars begin their life as a pearly egg the size of pin drop. (see earlier blog for photo). Eggs are eaten by many predators including wasps, spiders, anoles, and as low as one or two in every one hundred eggs will survive. When the caterpillar emerges three to five days later, it is the size of an eyelash. The average time from larva to chrysalis is 9 – 14 days. (though I find the heat can speed things up) and in that time the cat will grow 2000 times its hatch size!

So be forewarned--your caterpillars will need lots of Asclepius, commonly known as milkweed. There are many varieties of milkweed, hundreds in fact, and like most perennials, the choice of the plant best for you is based on your location.

Some people are worried that milkweed is invasive because of the word “weed.” Again, like most perennials the plant will increase in size and number over years, but if you choose plants suggested at butterfly sites, those varieties are not invasive. I live on the southern coast and use tropical milkweed. I find the two-foot plants with their showy flowers quite pretty in my garden. I have a big patch of it and guests always comment on it --and the monarchs fluttering by!

Interested in planting milkweed?  Next blog entry later today will explain where you can get free seeds or starter plants.

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All the best,
Mary Alice