Pictured above: Top: Monarch Caterpillar. Bottom Left: Early Stage Chrysalis. Bottom Right: Late Stage Chrysalis
As many know, milkweed is a necessary part of the Monarch butterfly life cycle. The adult butterfly lays its eggs on a milkweed plant. When the eggs hatch, the tiny caterpillar immediately starts munching on the leaves. It grows to about the size of a pinkie-finger, and then forms its chrysalis. From now till frost you will hopefully see many monarch caterpillars hatching, going through metamorphosis, and starting their southward migration.
Other insects on milkweed
Pictured above: Top Left: Milkweed Longhorn Beetle. Top Right: Milkweed Oleandar Aphid. Bottom Left: Milkweed Bug. Bottom Right: Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Monarchs are not the only insects to frequent the milkweed plant. Queen butterfly, Dogbane tiger moth, Milkweed Tussock moth and others need milkweed for larval feeding. Aphids and bees also frequent milkweed. Hummingbirds have been known to nectar on the milkweed flower, and some birds use the milkweed fiber to line their nests.
Generally, all these creatures co-exist well as part of a functioning ecosystem. There is no need to eradicate any of the insect visitors to your milkweed.
The aphid seems to be the insect we get the most questions about. Lady beetles, lacewing larvae, and several beneficial wasps will feed on the aphids, but don’t usually come around until the aphids are abundant. Applying pesticide to control them will harm the beneficial insects and the monarchs. Ordering commercial ladybeetles or lacewings may have unintended ecological consequences. Our advice? If your plants are mature, ignore the aphids. If your young plant appears to be suffering from aphids, use a gloved hand to smash them and wipe them off.
Large milkweed bugs gather in groups on the plant and are easy spot. We get many questions about them, also. They don’t harm the plant itself, but suck the moisture from un-opened seed pods, making the seed non-viable. Again, insecticides would affect many beneficial insects. The best course of action is to let them be unless you are raising the milkweed plants for seed production.
Types of Milkweed We Carry
We typically carry 3 or 4 species of milkweed – Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Swamp or Rose milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and Purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurescens). at any given time, some of these species might be in very limited quantities.
These species typically require a few weeks of warm weather before they break dormancy. We don’t sell dormant milkweed, because we want to be sure to send a viable plant home with you. For this reason, we generally don’t have milkweed for sale until June. You will find this to be true for most milkweed growers. The plants just aren’t ready to sell first thing in the spring.
We have a great crop of Asclepias tuberosa ready for sale now. A new crop won’t be ready to sell until June 2018. Stop in today for your milkweed!