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  • Writer's pictureBrice Claypoole

Milkweed magic!

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

UPDATE: A bumble bee (which is a rare sighting in our area) came to the butterfly milkweed! 7/30/2020

The cassius blue butterflies didn’t seem to mind the rain as I walked through the garden recently. They were flying around everywhere. Then, when I walked by a new bed of native plants, I saw a magnificent sight: 5 cassius blues sitting on the same butterfly milkweed flower. We got the native butterfly milkweed this year and it only started flowering in the last month. Since it started blooming, we’ve had monarchs, leaf cutter bees, gulf fritillaries, black swallowtails and more come to its flowers.

We used to grow non-native tropical milkweed for monarchs. We loved all the monarchs it attracted, but that was all it attracted, no leaf cutter bees, gulf fritillaries or cassius blues. We have stopped growing tropical milkweed because we learned that it carries a disease that can kill monarchs. Tropical milkweeds attractiveness to monarchs was great, but I want to feed all our butterfly, bee and wasp friends. Tropical milkweed is also slightly invasive. It has become a weed in our yard. Months after we pulled the original plants out, they are still trying to take over the yard. Yet, the native butterfly milkweed barely spreads at all.

This is not the only example of native plants being better for wildlife than non-natives. One of the most well-known examples is the non-native butterfly bush. Butterfly bush is often planted to attract butterflies, but it has become come invasive in the United States. This may sound fine. Butterfly bush provides nectar for butterflies, but it is not a host plant for them. So, if it crowds out the plants that caterpillars need to eat, there will be no butterflies for it to feed. Native joe pye weed though is a different story, it is also super attractive to butterflies and hosts dozens of caterpillars.

It is unsurprising that the native plants are better for pollinators than non-native plants. Our native animals (leafcutter bees, cassius blues, gulf fritillaries, etc.) have adapted to eat butterfly milkweed and joe pye weed for thousands of years. Whereas, they have not adapted to eat non-natives like tropical milkweed and butterfly bush. So, if we are to feed all our butterflies, bees, moths and wasps, throughout their lifecycles we must grow more native plants and less non-native plants.

Above: Native butterfly milkweed

Below: Non-native tropical milkweed

Below are two videos of the butterflies on the butterfly milkweed. (All photos and videos by Brice Claypoole)

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