Friday, January 28, 2011

Life is for Learning

We've noticed that we've been pretty lean on posts during the month of January here in My Florida Backyard. More rainfall and lower temperatures than usual has made it a little challenging to find new and exciting things to tell you about recently. While we scour the yard for some interesting topics, I thought you might be interested in a guest post I recently did for the MOSI BioWorks blog, Tales From the Butterfly Garden. It's a little more detailed than our posts here on My Florida Backyard sometimes are, but hopefully you'll find some of the information useful or interesting.

Preparing for Caterpillar Season: Milkweed
Originally published on Tales From the Butterfly Garden

During the chilly winter months in Florida, days can go by without a butterfly sighting, but it only takes a few warm days to bring them out again. In a few weeks, they'll be back in full force, making now the perfect time to prepare your garden to support butterfly and caterpillar populations for the year ahead.

Butterfly enthusiasts know that milkweed is the larval host plant for butterflies in the subfamily Danainae, which includes Monarchs and Queens. In Florida, the most common milkweed available for sale is Asclepias curassavica, known commonly as Tropical Milkweed or Scarlet Milkweed. This species of milkweed is not actually native to Florida, but has naturalized here due to its ability to thrive in our hot and sticky summers. Being a tropical plant, it is not cold-hardy, though it will frequently come back from the roots if you're patient. It also reseeds readily, and also grows easily from stem cuttings allowed to root in water.

Florida also has several dozen native species of milkweed, most found only in the wild and some in very localized populations. Of these native species, the only one commonly found for sale is Asclepias tuberosa, commonly called Butterflyweed. By scouring the internet, I've gathered information on twelve other native species, and found seed sources for three of them. The list below shows botanical name, common name(s), and some general information. Craig Huegel has done a great job documenting many of these species in detail on his Native Florida Wildflowers blog, so for further information and pictures, click the botanical name to be redirected to his blog (or, in a few cases,

Asclepias connivens - Large Flower Milkweed   
  • Occurs throughout Florida in open wet flatwoods and savannahs, in widely scattered and localized populations
  • Requires open and seasonally wet conditions to thrive
Asclepias curtisii - Curtiss' Milkweed   
  • Extremely rare endemic and endangered species, with localized populations
  • Confined to sunny and very well-drained sandy habitats in the peninsula 
Asclepias feayi - Florida Milkweed
  • Endemic to Florida and found only within the southern half of the state
  • Native to well-drained upland habitats, especially xeric flatwoods and sandhills with high levels of sunlight
Asclepias humistra - Purple Milkweed
  • Native to the northern two-thirds of Florida
  • Prefers well-drained sands and full sun; will rot quickly if planted in moist soils
Asclepias incarnata - Swamp Rose Milkweed
  • Native throughout peninsular Florida
  • Prefers moist to wet soil habitats in sunny locations, but can tolerate occasional drought once established
  • Huegel notes this species is difficult to cultivate from seed, although seeds are readily available in many seed catalogs. In addition to seed, Prairie Moon Nursery offers both bare root and potted plants for sale via mail order.
Asclepias lanceolata - Fewflower Milkweed
  • Tall thin species with very thin leaves and small heads of bright orange blooms
  • Occurs throughout Florida in open marshes, wet prairies, and savannahs
Asclepias longifolia - Longleaf Milkweed
  • Found throughout Florida in pinelands and savannahs with sunny, moist soils
  • Easy to grow from seed, though no commercial seed source appears to be available
Asclepias pedicellata - Savannah Milkweed
  • Occurs statewide in open upland habitats, such as pine flatwoods and prairie
  • Prefers average conditions during much of the year and moist soils during the summer rainy season
Asclepias perennis - Swamp Milkweed, Aquatic Milkweed, White Milkweed
  • Occurs in a variety of wetland habitats, including semi-shaded forests
  • Requires good soil moisture to prosper; has some drought tolerance but must be provided plenty of water during the summer months
Ascplepias tomentosa - Velvetleaf Milkweed
  • Occurs in a variety of well-drained upland sites throughout most of Florida
  • A good candidate for gardeners looking to use native milkweeds in a butterfly garden
Asclepias verticillata - Whorled Milkweed
  • A drought-tolerant species that thrives in sun or part shade
  • Seeds available from Prairie Moon Nursery via mail order
Asclepias viridis - Green Antelopehorn, Spider Milkweed 
  • This species prefers moist soils and full sun
  • Seeds available from Prairie Moon Nursery via mail order

For butterfly lovers in Florida and other states, is a great source of information on milkweed around the country. Here you'll find an in-progress guide to milkweed species, along with detailed growing information. Many milkweeds are surprisingly hard to start from seed, requiring scarification and/or stratification to germinate, and this site provides instructions for both. They also offer a Milkweed Seed Kit for sale that provides four kinds of milkweed seeds, three of which should grow well in Florida.

In a butterfly garden, you can never have too much milkweed. A hungry caterpillar can strip a plant of leaves in just a few days, so plant all the milkweed you can handle to support a healthy butterfly population in your area. You can start now from seeds, or watch your local nurseries for milkweed plants in the months ahead. A patch of milkweed is almost guaranteed to be a butterfly magnet - if you plant it, and they will come!

If you know of a source for seeds or plants of any of Florida's native milkweed species, we'd love to hear about it. Please tell us in the comments.


  1. I got my two plants from the Bartow Extension Center when they had their plant sale a couple of months back. Love the selection of natives they offer!

  2. Nice article and great advice to locate the native milkweeds for those hungry monarchs/queens. There is some indication that Asclepias curassavica, which is native to South America may be escaping cultivation and inhabiting natural areas in Pacific Islands and in some Pacific Rim countries where it had not been shown to be invasive in the past. Sometimes the invasiveness doesn't rear its ugly head for years, so Floridians would do well to spend the extra time to locate the natives you suggest. Fabulous research! Loret from

  3. We just purchased milkweed from the garden shop at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Meyers, Florida. And at an incredible reasonable price.

  4. We just purchased milkweed from the garden shop at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Meyers, Florida. And at an incredible reasonable price.