Bring on the Monarch butterflies!
The fall eastern migration route of the world’s most famous butterfly, the North American Monarch (Danaus plexippus), may include the Florida peninsula as they fly south to Mexico, with some staying in south Florida and the Caribbean. The long route to winter resting grounds may require three or more generations of each butterfly. Along the way they search for host plants for their caterpillars. To aid this species’ survival, native milkweeds (genus Asclepias) are needed along their flight path.
If ever there was a case for “right plant, right place,” this is it. Monarchs need Florida native milkweeds (See List Source below). Unfortunately, most milkweeds sold in big box stores and local nurseries are a non-native species called Tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) or Scarlet milkweed. Homeowners think this plant is wonderful because of its beautiful red-orange flowers that bloom year-round in Florida. By staying for plentiful Tropical milkweed, migrating monarchs are exposed to parasites and a potentially fatal disease called OE from overwintering monarchs. And their caterpillars are weakened by the higher concentration of cardenolides (toxin) found in Tropical milkweed.
Florida native milkweed plants are available at native plant nurseries and seeds are available from the Florida Wildflowers Growers Cooperative (www.floridawildflowers.com). Skip seed packets from online vendors as these are usually not Florida native milkweeds. Commonly available species include Swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), Snowy milkweed (A. perennis), Butterfly milkweed (A. tuberosa), and Whorled milkweed (A. verticillata). Each species has different USDA Hardiness Zones, bloom colors, height, leave shape and texture, as well as soil, moisture, and sun needs. All die back in winter and reappear in Spring as monarchs move north across Florida. When looking for plants at a nursery, always check the scientific name of the plant on the label to make sure you are getting the native species.
See before your buy. Visit the Native Plant Demonstration Garden at UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County office, 16110 Aviation Loop Drive, Brooksville 34604. Check out native milkweeds and plants for shady, partially shady, and sunny areas. Helpful plant labels include informational QR codes.
Shop Hernando County Master Gardeners Nursery, 19490 Oliver Street, Brooksville 34601 and purchase native and non-native Florida-friendly plants.
Written by UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County Master Gardener Volunteers Anastasia Collazos and Alice Smith