We’ve bemoaned the milkweed shortage for weeks now, blaming the harsh winter and subsequent drought for a paltry wildflower season that resulted in a lack of Monarch butterfly host plants–just as the rebounding migrants are making their journey north through Texas. A drive west out Highway 71 on Sunday confirmed that little was blooming, with one exception: Asclepias asperula, also known as Antelope Horns. The plant is one of several Texas native Monarch butterfly hosts.
Antelope Horns milkweed on the roadside in the Texas Hill Country
Driving west through Johnson City and on to Fredericksburg and Mason, Antelope Horns dotted the roadside, poking its strange bulbous flowerheads and sturdy leaves from dry road shoulders, often the only nectar source in site. It was too windy for butterflies and we found no eggs or caterpillars on these resilient forbs.[wpvideo KbyUheFI]
The exotic greenish-white bloomer also appeared in abundance near the parking area at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center native plant sale in Austin on Saturday. Inside, milkweed shoppers were left wanting. “We don’t have any this year,” one volunteer offered, directing me to milkweed seeds on display at a tent hosted by Native American Seed of Junction.
On the Llano River, stands of Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed, were making their debut, leaves and chutes jutting from dry native grass masses. None of the luscious pink flowers were visible yet, but we spotted many caterpillars and eggs, retrieving some for safekeeping and life cycle completion. The video above gives you a tour–and provides useful tips for those of you who have been emailing with questions on how to spot eggs and caterpillars on milkweed.
Chubby Monarch caterpillar on miikweed
And just so you know, you don’t have to leave home to find milkweed and Monarchs. Upon my return late Sunday afternoon, a chubby Monarch caterpillar welcomed me in my Travis Heights front yard. As I unloaded the truck, she decimated the remnants of a Tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, transplanted from San Antonio to Austin last fall.
Plant milkweed and the Monarchs will come.
Note: For info on which milkweed species are appropriate for our area, check out the Texas Butterfly Ranch Milkweed guide.