Holy cow! I’ve got a crisis! In my backyard the monarch caterpillars have chomped through all the leaves on the milkweed plants and they are still hungry. The very last milkweed has five, count them FIVE caterpillars and only TWO leaves left. That isn’t going to cut it. Will they die as caterpillars and never turn into butterflies if they don’t get more milkweed leaves?
Aggggggh! I don’t know the answer but I don’t like the numbers. Rushing to Lowe’s I search in vain for milkweed. “Nope, we don’t have any,” says a bored clerk. I’m sure my crisis would seem like comedy to her. I don’t bother to explain. Rushing back home I phone Taylor Gardens Nursery in Citra.
Milkweed plants are host plants for Monarch butterflies
Guda tells me to come on out, she has a few pots of milkweed left. I drive almost a half hour and ask for five pots, figuring a feast for each caterpillar.
“You know it is late for monarchs to be doing caterpillars,” Guda comments as she picks up pots and pulls out a few weeds. Even as she speaks several female monarchs are flying nearby, looking to lay eggs on the milkweeds.
Monarchs and milkweeds go together like bacon and eggs. They need each other. While some flowers supply nectar for butterflies, each species has its own host plant that it must find to lay its eggs.
That’s why butterfly gardeners will plant say, a red penta, to attract butterflies, and nearby are plants like milkweed and fennel and passion vine for different kinds of butterflies to lay their eggs.
Eggs hatch, caterpillars eat and eat, then metamorphosis happens, they change form completely and emerge as beautiful flying canvases of color.
I hurried home, grabbed a shovel and planted milkweed along the fence line then carefully transferred each caterpillar to its own plant. They began chomping immediately. Crisis solved!
Yes, I know, it isn’t on the same level as solving the economic crisis or bringing our troops home but somehow making a difference in my backyard makes a difference. You have got to start somewhere.
Did you know that monarchs need your help? Killing freezes in Mexico destroyed 75 percent of the wintering population of monarchs from North America. In the spring, summer and fall they need milkweed here to lay their eggs and there is a national shortage of milkweed. It used to grow a lot by the side of the road but spraying and deep cutting has eliminated them.
Milkweed plants in your yard will help save Monarch butterflies
The Live Monarch foundation seeks to grow milkweed in every back yard! You can get free milkweed seeds by sending a stamped, addressed envelope (with a suggested donation of $2) to: Live Monarch Foundation – Seeds, 3003-C8 Yamato Road #1015, Boca Raton, Florida 33434.
If you don’t want to get down and dirty and dig in the dirt, adopt an online butterfly and watch your monarch go from an egg to an adult butterfly. You get an update every few days with pictures. This is a free educational experience. What are you waiting for? I’m signing up today then going outside to check on the milkweed plants.
Lucy Beebe Tobias is the author of “50 Great Walks in Florida”, University Press of Florida, and the Authentic Florida Expert for VISIT FLORIDA
Lucy’s book Florida Gardens Gone Wild(er), second edition, 2015, has excellent butterfly garden suggestions