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Brenda's Garden
by Brenda Beust Smith

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Monarchs ablaze in Brenda's Garden — call in the children!

Even a little butterweed seems to be attracting a LOT of monarchs this year.

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

I have only a small stand of butterflyweed, but even it seems to be attracting an exceptional number of butterflies this year.  These jewels of nature must be nervous flying over our area.  Where are all the fields of native milkweed on which they usually build a home for their young-to-come? 

What happened, for example, to that huge field of passionvines just west of the old Crystal Palace motel on Bolivar Peninsula?  Some years it was just smokin' with monarchs.

Nature has wreaked havoc on the native habitats of not only the monarch, but lots of other wonderful wildlife.  What it hasn't destroyed, man is taking care of by cementing over every piece of soil in site. 

Butterflyweed (Asclepias curassavica) is a must for anyone who would like to attract butterflies or who would like to turn children onto gardening.

This perennial, which we used to call Mexican oleander, grows sends up single or a few stalks about 3 foot high.

You can cut it back before it starts blooming to make it bushier.  Or, you can totally ignore it as I do.

The red/orange/yellow flowers like full hot sun and a well drained area and bloom easily spring through late fall or winter.  The sap is toxic to birds, so they won't eat the distinctive green/black striped caterpillars.

Once you see these the plants being eaten by “something," don't rush for a bug bomb.  Keep an eye out for the developing caterpillars.  Once you see these (and point them out to all the neighborhood children), keep an eye out for little pearl-colored capsules. 

Mine appeared on a low wire border fence holding up nearby plants.  But I've seen them on fences, backs of chairs, roof eaves, anywhere that they can hang undisturbed.  A great search project for children.

Keep watching.  You can, as some folks do, pluck these off and take them inside to keep in butterfly "cages" (mesh see-through bags) so you can actually watch them hatch.  Most better nurseries have these bags.

Then, as soon as one develops, carry the bag outside and let it go.

Or, you can just let nature take its course.

Then, let this be a lesson to you next time another plant gets “eaten."  Identify the guilty caterpillar first, lest you risk a pyrrhic victory!  (Look it up.)

Butterflyweed is available in almost all nurseries.  Anyone who has some would probably gladly share with you. The beautiful seed pods (white feathery delights) are blown about by the wind and generally root wherever they fall.

Good luck!

Brenda Beust Smith (Features > Brenda's Garden)

"THE LAZY GARDENER'S GUIDE ON CD" — a gardening book on CD offers gardening tips plus 12 pre-designed gardens for butterflies, hummers, sun, shade and more. Monthly what-to-do reminders for Greater Houston/Gulf Coast gardens. $20 each. Make checks payable to Brenda B. Smith & mail to: Lazy Gardener's Guide on CD, 14011 Greenranch, Houston, TX 77039-2103.

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