Because I belong to the local chapter of the Native Plant Society, I notice native plants more, try to learn their names, and even find out if they possess medicinal uses. We decided to adopt a theme for the year 2014, milkweeds. Why milkweeds? They are the primary food for monarch butterflies which are in extreme decline. Why the decline? Pesticide and herbicide use plus overwhelming habitat loss, especially along bar ditches and in the area of Mexico to which they migrate annually. This past winter instead of hundreds of trees in Mexico covered with monarchs, there were only twelve. Yes, only twelve. Why do herbicides cause a problem?? When the butterfly larvae eat milkweed sprayed with herbicide, they ingest that herbicide toxin.
Monarchs are an ancient species. They have been around for over 50 million years. Monarchs are the only insect species to migrate 2500 miles annually. Monarchs go through four generations per year. The first three generations hatch and live up to six weeks. The fourth continues to live for six or eight months. They taste with their feet. Monarchs have special meaning for Mexicans because they arrive in Mexico at the same time as the Day of the Dead.
In the Panhandle of Texas, four common milkweeds grow: Asclepias tuberosa, Asclepias asperula, Asclepias latifolia, and Asclepias verticillata. The name Asclepios is derived from the Greek word, Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine and healing. I find only two of these here where I live, latifolia and asperula.
The top photo and the one immediately above are of asperula, more commonly called antelope horns. They are important hosts for butterflies. When discussing butterflies of any species, it is important to note that butterflies require two types of plants, host and nectar. This plant provides important food for larvae.
At least where I live, the more common–by that I mean it grows anywhere and everywhere, even in the driest caliche soil–is latifolia. However, I have never seen a monarch on either the blossoms or the leaves. When in full bloom, latifolia attracts giant (as in several inches long) black and orange wasps which seem incredibly non-agressive.
This poor latifolia specimen barely hangs on next to the hydrant by the barn.
If you want to try growing milkweed yourself and you live in the Panhandle, seeds and plants can be purchased from Canyon Edge Plants and Panhandle Greenhouses. Obtain free seeds from Livemonarch.com. Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, Texas, also sells seeds. If you want butterflies, do not use pesticides and herbicides. Contact me if you want me to publish the “Butterfly Attracting Plant List”.