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BONNIE'S GARDEN--Saving the Monarch Butterfly

In August of 2014, Monarch butterflies made national news, when it was petitioned to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service that they be granted endangered species status.   According to the Xerces Society, monarch counts “have declined 90% from the 20 year average since the mid-1990’s.  If monarchs were people, that would be like losing every single person in the United States except those living in Florida and Ohio.”  The loss is blamed partly on the widespread use of herbicides in the Midwest and other places where crops are grown, as well as urban sprawl. The herbicides have almost eradicated milkweed—the host plant for the Monarch’s caterpillars.  We can help, on the other hand, by incorporating Milkweed into our perennial gardens.

Asclepias (named after the Greek god of healing) or Milkweed/Butterfly Weed is an important nectar source for many pollinators and is the only plant Monarch caterpillars will eat.  Some people confuse Butterfly Weed with Butterfly Bush (Buddleia).  Buddleias, natives of China, are very attractive to many pollinators, including butterflies, but are not host plants for any caterpillars—and you can’t have one without the other.

There has been some concern that it could be detrimental to Monarch butterflies to incorporate non-native milkweeds into our gardens so it is probably best, until more studies have been done, to incorporate more of our native milkweed species.  The Blood Flower (Tropical Milkweed) or Asclepias Curassavica is often found at garden centers.  If you do plant it, it is recommended to cut the flowers off as soon as the native varieties begin to die back in the fall so as to encourage the Monarchs to migrate on schedule. 

The most common species that are native to Virginia are:

Asclepias Incarnata (Swamp Milkwood, Rose Milkweed, White Indian Hemp) is a hardy perennial which prefers moist soils.  A. Incarnata grows three to four feet high and prefers full sun to partial shade.  It has umbels of mauve to pink flowers and blooms mid-summer.

Asclepias Syriaca (Common Milkweed, Virginia Silkweed, Silky Swallow-Wort) grows three to four feet tall and prefers sunny areas with well-draining soil.  It has fragrant light purplish-pink umbels of flowers. 

Asclepias Tuberosa (Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, Orange Butterfly Weed, Indian Posy, Indian Paintbrush) grows one to three feet tall and blooms mid-summer with showy orange flowers (there is also a variety with bright yellow flowers).  It prefers full sun and very-well draining soil.

There are many other native varieties, as well.  All milkweeds can reseed prolifically in the right location so simply removing the seed pods before they open can help to keep them in bounds.  All milkweeds tend to break dormancy a couple of weeks after most other perennials have broken dormancy so don’t get alarmed if they don’t show up until April.  Milkweeds do not usually survive transplanting because of their long taproots so should not be dug up in the wild.  They should be planted where you intend to keep them. 

By incorporating milkweeds into our perennial beds, maybe we can help save  these beautiful showy butterflies.
Posted: 8/17/2015 by Bonnie Pega | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: Bonnie's, Butterflies, Garden, Milkweed, Monarch
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