Monday, January 17, 2011

To Everything, There is a Season

Any butterfly gardener knows that milkweed is one of the most important plants in any butterfly garden. We often refer to it as the "all-in-one butterfly plant", because it provides food for monarch butterflies (and several others) throughout their entire life cycle. This subfamily of butterflies (Danainae) lay their eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves so the caterpillars are in the perfect place to start feeding when they hatch. After metamorphosis, the adult butterflies sip the nectar from the flowers.

There are a multitude of milkweed species native to Florida, but (not surprisingly) most are difficult to find, even at native plant nurseries. The two most readily available are Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), which is actually not native but does very well here during hot and humid summers, and Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which is perfect for the cool season.

A. tuberosa can take a light frost with minimal damage, and thrives in moderate temperatures. It's available in both yellow and orange flowered varieties, and both are great for monarchs, queens, and other milkweed butterflies.

Monarchs do live year-round in Central Florida. Unlike northern populations, the Florida population does not migrate to Mexico, so butterfly gardeners should strive to provide them with host and nectar plants all throughout the year. At this time of year, you may not see many butterflies, but on warm afternoons they can still be found where the right plants are available, and the right plant right now is A. tuberosa.

If you can't find plants, A. tuberosa is pretty easy to start from seed, which you should be able to find most places seeds are sold. We bought a couple of packets of the orange-flowered variety from Burpee at Home Depot last week for $1 each. This is also a good time to start seeds for other varieties of milkweed - many of the native varieties are available online from native plant catalogs like Prairie Moon. We're thinking of trying Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata) and Whorled Milkweed (A. verticillata) this year, just for variety. We'll let you know if we succeed!


  1. I ran into your mother the other day at Kohl's. We had so much fun talking and then figuring out that we had the same name. Please pass my blog onto her. Thanks for the blog, as I will use it this spring!! I may be emailing you for advice on planting!!