Those of us who garden for Monarchs and other butterflies are constantly in the hunt for milkweed sources. Nurseries typically have supplies on hand in spring when the Monarchs begin their journey north from Mexico and pass through Texas in late March and April. As summer heats up, and other butterflies occupy our gardens, our native milkweeds form seedpods that eventually turn brown, pop open and disburse a fluffy silk parachute attached to each of the 50-100 seeds inside the pod. That’s happening right now and signals it’s a great time to gather milkweed seeds for planting more Monarch host plant.
Monarch butterfly enthusiast Peggy Winkler in Austin relayed via email recently that our wet spring resulted in a bounty of Antelope Horns, Asclepias asperula, all over her property outside Austin. “I gathered the last of the Antelope Horns seeds/pods last weekend at the ranch, and you should receive a box soon,” she wrote. Lucky me, to have a friend that supplies native milkweed seeds, but I guess she’s tired of hearing my complaints about the difficulty and expense of planting native Monarch host plant from seed.
In Junction, Emily Nieman wrote that her family’s company, Native American Seed, had recently harvested a crop of Antelope Horn seed. She sent along the gorgeous slideshow above.
For those inclined to instant gratification, planting milkweed seedlings is another option. You can still install Tropical milkweed, but you’ll need to give it some protection. Our full Texas sun can crisp Tropical milkweed when completely exposed, so plant with morning sun or partial shade protection. Potted and containerized plants are also worth considering, since you can move them in and out of sun as needed. Either in the ground or in pots, Tropical milkweed will need consistent watering, unlike many of its native siblings.
Fortunately, local nurseries are starting to get the message that we butterfly fans want milkweed and other butterfly host plants that have not been sprayed with pesticides.
In April, Monarch caterpillar wrangler Sharon Sander bought supposedly organic milkweed plants from a local nursery to feed the dozens of Monarch caterpillars that had decimated the Tropical milkweed plants in her yard. The nursery assured Sander the plants had not been sprayed with pesticides. But within 24 hours of feeding her ‘cats,’ all the caterpillars perished.
The resulting PR debacle made it clear that butterfly lovers will insist on clean, pesticide- free plants.
Wendy Meyer, co-manager of Shades of Green in San Antonio, let us know that their nursery just received a shipment of four-inch Tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, the Monarch caterpillars’ favorite host plant. She assured us the plants are “clean,” having arrived from the USDA certified organic Gabriel Valley Farms in Georgetown.
“They’re unsprayed, for anyone who wants to get them started for the Monarchs,” said Meyer by phone. “And of course, they attract ladybugs that control the aphids that always gather on them.”
It’s not always easy to determine if milkweed or other host plants are clean or not. Best practice is to talk to your local nursery staff and get assurances. We’ve included local contact information for our favorite Austin and San Antonio nurseries below to make it easy on you.
In San Antonio
Fanick’s Nursery, 210.648.1303
Schulz’s Nursery, 210. 804.0600
Shades of Green, 210.824.3772
The Great Outdoors, 512.448.2992
Barton Springs Nursery, 512.328.6655
The Natural Gardener, 512-288-6113
For more info on what milkweed species are most desireable, check out our Milkweed Guide.
I am in Huatulco on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca. Yesterday I took a day trip to a small community about 50 Kim’s. Fom town. We drove up the mountains ino an elevation of about 2000 meters. the climate was still hot but much more humid than down at sea level. the vegetation changed from a low jungle to a high jungle. My guide and I were photographing butterflies when a local farmer told us there is a large colony of Monarchs that migrates here every year. Is that possible? Do they come this far south?
I have spotted 3 or 4 monarchs here in the course of 6 years, so I figured they had just gotten caught up on some wind current way off course.
He indicated the roosting site was not far fom where we were, which of course could mean anything. Because rain was approaching and the roads were not in great shape, we decided not to venture out in search of it, but will definitely follow up on it on another visit here later in the year. Any thoughts?
P.S. I have not spotted any milkweed in the area either.
Wow, that’s pretty interesting, Veronica. Let me run that by some of my entomologist friends who are more in a position to speak to that than me. Thanks for sharing!
Dear Ms. Maeckle,
I appreciate your blog and the help it gives us in holding together to support the butterflies–on all sorts. My question: can you pass on your rubric for raising milkweed from seed. I’ve done well with rooting cuttings and have planted over 100 milkweeds and I have almost 200 more in flats. But I’ve flunked on growing from seed. I collect my own and used Native American. I’m just trying to build the habitat for the creatures that ethanol use and development have imperiled.
Thank you for the kind words, Ted. I am assuming that you are talking about Asclepias asperula, antelope horns milkweed. Here’s the recommended approach for germination: https://texasbutterflyranch.com/2013/03/13/how-to-get-texas-native-milkweed-seeds-to-germinate/ The Texas native Milkweeds are super persnickety and not that widely available. Here’s some background on why: https://texasbutterflyranch.com/2013/03/13/persnickety-texas-milkweeds-may-not-lend-themselves-to-mass-seed-production/
I, too, have had little luck with native milkweed germination in wildscape situations. At home in my urban garden I plant Asclepias curassavica, Tropical milkweed, which is not native but is the most preferred diet and host of Monarchs in my experience. It also is the plant on which Monarchs evolved, according to many scientists. Not appropriate for wildscapes, though. Here’s some background: https://texasbutterflyranch.com/2013/02/25/tropical-milkweed-to-plant-it-or-not-its-not-a-simple-question/ Tropical milkweed is easy to propagate from seed, widely available from commercial nurseries and easy to grow. I recommend it for gardens but not in the wild. Also, you should cut it to the ground in winter to prevent possible transfer of viruses and spores that negatively impact Monarchs.
Monarch Watch is selling plugs of native milkweeds and you might try their milkweed exchange. It is definitely a challenge. Good luck and keep us posted, I wish I could be more helpful.
Thanks for writing, too. MM