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.