Monday, June 4, 2012

Nebraska Wildflowers Day 3 -- Milkweed

This is Nebraska wildflower week. Each day I'll feature a native wildflower that grows well for me in my fickle clay AND brings in butterflies. Hopefully, you'll find something you've never seen before.

To end the week, on Saturday, June 9 at 10am, I'll be giving a presentation on Nebraska wildflowers at Finke Gardens and Nursery. And don't forget, I do run a native prairie garden coaching business. Ahem.

Also, check out Bob Henrickson's (NE Statewide Arboretum) fantastic advice on planting a mini prairie in your landscape.


I ask people all the time if they plant milkweed, because it is a host plant for monarch butterflies. Oh yes yes yes, they say, Asclepias tuberosa. Oh no no no, I reply, not good at all.

Red Swamp Milkweed
See, in my garden over 5 years, I've seen about two monarchs on orange-blooming tuberosa. On incarnata (swamp), I've seen one thousand. So the latter is the one to get--not just to help monarchs whose habitats are being poisoned and destroyed like never before (along with pretty much every other butterfly)--but because when it blooms in June and July all insects go nuts nectaring.

*** Milkweed is NOT a weed!!! ***

Swamp milkweed should be in full sun if you want it to bloom and give you some cool furry seeds. Otherwise, I also have it in half sun, moist to medium clay soil, anywhere from 1-3' tall and 1' wide. I have both the red and white-blooming cultivars, though the larvae seem to prefer the straight red species. Other good milkweeds to have are A. sullivantii, speciosa, syriaca, and purpaurscens, but you'll have to research those to know more.

'Ice Ballet' or some such odd name
Some of the 200 monarch caterpillars I raise each year


Gaia Gardener: said...

I feel like a toddler with all the questions I have....

Where do you get all your monarch caterpillars? Why do you bring them inside to raise them? Where do you get all the milkweed leaves to give them? How did you get started on this project?

200 monarchs a year is a wonderful gift to the population. I'm just curious as to the whys and wherefores.... (Hope you don't think I'm being rude; that's certainly not my intention.)

Anonymous said...

How do I know if the milk weed I have growing in my yard will attract monarchs. I am intentionally trying to grow milk weed but I don't know if the stuff I have is correct or not. Any specifics you can share.

(Also, when I was growing up in Indiana, the milk weed growing there had pods with white fluffy stuff and hundredns of seeds inside. I have not seen that kind of milk weed in NE so I wonder if the pod-like milkweed is the kind that attreact the monarhs.

Benjamin Vogt said...

GG--Whoa boy. Ok....
1) I get all my monarch cats from my garden, usually as eggs so there's no chance of tachnid fly egg laying inside them.
2) I bring them in so they don't get eaten by wasps or have eggs put in them by tachnid flies.
3) I get all the milkweed from my garden--I have 24 plants, though the rabbit destroyed half of them this spring, so I'm very concerned about having enough this year. They eat any milkweed leaf you give them (monarchs).
4)Started by simple curiosity. I'd never done it before. Took a few inside, read about how many butterflies of all kinds are fading away, and it became an ecological issue.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Anon--Any milkweed will attract monarchs, though for me, tuberosa doesn't. If you sent me a pic I could probably i.d. the milkweed for you. All milkweed get the silky seeds head you are referring to, trust me they exist in Nebraska. I can also suggest local place to get swamp milkweed (Finke Nursery, B&B Nursery), speciosa and syriaca (NE Arboretum). Also, online, Prairie Nursery and Prairie Moon Nursery offer swamp milkweed and one called sullivant's--bot are not aggressive spreaders, just clumpers.

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

My swamp milkweed is slowly spreading and surprise so is common milkweed...suddenly found its way into the garden from some critter since there was none anywhere around.

Gaia Gardener: said...

I obviously need to do more research on tachinid flies. They are generally considered beneficial because of their parasitism on tomato and tobacco hornworms; it makes sense that they parasitize other Lepidopterans as well. Ditto, of course, for the brachonid wasps.

It sounds like you are doing quite a service with your monarch caterpillar rearing. A couple hundred monarchs from one small garden is quite the gift to the overall population. And you are doing it all without disturbing the balance of other species, which I think is particularly interesting.

Thanks for filling me in on the wheres and whyfores.

Gaia Gardener: said...

I've been looking over various pages pulled up through Google and, interestingly, unless I specifically look for 'monarch' and 'tachinid' together, the pages about tachinid flies talk only about their beneficial use as a biological control. Some tachinid species are even being imported and released to control gypsy moths, cabbage loopers and other "pest" caterpillars. That always makes me nervous about unintended, collateral damage.

Dawn said...

Hi Benjamin,
I wondered if you had seen this.,0,7448108.story

Thought you'd be interested, given your love of monarchs!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Thank you Dawn. What an awesome story!!!

DeAnna B said...

Benjamin, you're the rock star of native plant gardening! I love your articles, I've learned so much from you and I'm so grateful to you!
I'm sending Milkweed pods this year to a friend in Nebraska. I was doing research to confirm they're native to her area when I found your article, and I sent her the link.
I have Tuberosa and Incarnata (Swamp) Milkweed for the past 4 years. I have Monarch cats on the Tuberosa all summer long. I've only seen 1 cat on the Swamp, and he was a big fat healthy cat! Last summer I added 32 moe Swamp and 34 Tuberosa. Beautiful glorious plants! I;ll add a photo if I can.