We’re always confused about why it’s so hard to buy milkweed seeds, especially the tropical species that blooms in its first year and then has pods that are super-easy to collect.
Across the country, monarch butterfly populations are plummeting because GMO crops tolerate weedkillers that destroy the milkweed the butterflies need to stay alive. We can’t do much about the big picture, but you can plant a little bit of the habitat monarchs need to survive.
If you’re in Florida, there is some controversy about tropical milkweed vs. the native milkweed. The tropical milkweed is a native of Central America and may be invasive. (I haven’t seen a problem but it is a concern.) More importantly, tropical milkweed may encourage migrating monarch butterflies to stay in Florida when they should be heading to warmer temperatures in Mexico. And milkweed growing year-round means that it’s easier for diseases to attack the butterflies.
We’re seriously working on reproducing native milkweed, but it isn’t as robust as the tropical, which jumps right back after it’s been eaten down to the stem. And unless you’re in Florida or another subtropical climate where butterflies can live year-round, it isn’t really an issue.
A Beautiful Annual Flower
Tropical milkweed is a fabulous annual flowering plant. It has gorgeous flowers that attract all kinds of bees and butterflies — not just monarchs. If it gets eaten alive by Monarch caterpillars, that’s a great thing too! You can either give it a good dose of fertilizer and cut it back to the ground in the spring or early summer, or cut it back and dig up the roots to save for next year. (And the cuttings root easily, so you’ll have a yard full of butterflies or plenty to share!)
This milkweed will be either bright orange or nearly fluorescent yellow but either will have stand out in your garden and make a statement about how important it is that every single person takes at least a small step in protecting wildlife.
(But please don’t use neem oil on milkweed! As wonderful as it is, neem doesn’t differentiate between good caterpillars and bad ones, so you can plant onions or marigolds to help deter the aphids or just put up with them…)