Milkweeds = Monarchs

Butterflies add moving color to otherwise static gardens. During peak butterfly season in my yard, dozens upon dozens of winged beauties drift from flower to flower, sometimes even bumping into me as I admire them. Planting flowers that attract these mobile garden ornaments is one sure way to bring them to your yard. But if you really want them to stick around, they need to be fruitful and multiply. And for that, they need caterpillar food plants.

In the case of Monarch butterflies, we’re in luck, because a number of their caterpillar food plants — members of the milkweed family — also produce lovely long-lasting flowers. One of my favorite milkweeds is Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). As its common name implies, it thrives in moist soil, but you can keep it happy in a well-mulched garden bed. For lots of flowers, give it a minimum of fours hours of sun. If it gets hot afternoon sun, it will need more water. ┬áIn return for meeting its minimum requirements, you’ll be rewarded with lovely pink flowers like this:

Swamp Milkweed

Group a few of these beauties together for more visual impact — and to make it easier for the Monarch butterflies to find them. Every late summer, I watch female Monarchs lay individual eggs on my Swamp Milkweeds. Soon the hungry larvae emerge and pretty much devour the entire plant before they create their emerald cocoons.

By the time the Monarch caterpillars are decimating my milkweeds, the flowers have finished for the season, leaving long seed pods to ripen by fall. The caterpillars don’t eat the seed pods, so I get new plants from seed, and because milkweeds are perennial, the devoured plants resprout every spring.

Personally, I don’t think you can ever have too many Monarchs, and I think the caterpillars have almost as much visual impact as their adult winged forms. See what I mean:

Monarch Caterpillar on Swamp Milkweed

And if you’ve got children in your household, planting milkweeds will provide you with an instant outdoor laboratory to teach them about the Monarch life cycle.

Last year, I managed to grow fourteen new Swamp Milkweeds from seeds I collected from pods on older plants in my yard. I planted them on three sides of my yard to ensure that I’ll have enough food for all the Monarchs that I hope will stop by.

To learn more about Monarch butterflies, try this site.

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  1. #1 by Michael Livingston on February 3, 2011 - 3:44 pm

    I’m learning so much that I feel both smarter — for all I’m now seeing — and dumber — for all that I have been missing — all at once!

  2. #2 by piedmontgardener on February 3, 2011 - 4:07 pm

    I don’t think you can blame ME for that, Michael. You don’t even live in the piedmont. :)
    Thanks for stopping by.

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