To Inspire, Transform & Heal

Linda Wiggen Kraft
Creativity for the Soul

The Very Hungry Caterpillars – Milkweed for Monarchs

A few days ago I walked out the front door and saw one of my butterfly milkweed plants – asclepias curassavica – full of monarch butterfly caterpillars.   I was happy to see them, and sad that a few days before I found out exactly how desperately they need our help.



There were two very large hungry monarch caterpillars eating the leaves.



And a very tiny half inch monarch caterpillar.  At the same time there were three or four monarch butterflies fluttering around landing on other asclepias milkweed plants.



Because there were monarch caterpillars I knew the butterflies were mating and the females laying eggs. Monarchs will only lay their eggs on asclepias plants.  The caterpillars then eat the leaves of these plants, and only these plants.  There is nutrition for the very hungry monarch caterpillars in asclepias and chemicals that deter predators.  Without asclepias milkweed plants there would be no monarch butterflies.  And when I saw the graph below I became sad and frightened that these beautiful migrating butterflies may become extinct.




I knew the monarchs were in trouble, but I didn’t know how low the number of  butterflies was last year in Mexico. Monarchs migrate from Canada and the US to Mexico or California.


monarch-migration-fall-monarch watch

This image from Monarch Watch shows where the butterflies migrate to. How sad that so few were in Mexico last year. In California very low numbers have shown up in recent years.   The reason is because of diminishing milkweed plants. Along roadsides and farm fields the asclepias plants are not there. Farmers are killing “weeds” including asclepias to plant their fields up to the edges instead of leaving wild  areas that provide habitat for butterflies, bees and other wildlife. More wild habitat is becoming human habitat. The numbers of asclepias plants can be increased with home and public gardens planting more of these plants.  The monarchs need our help.



MILKWEED FOR MONARCHS – PLEASE HELP.  Every gardener is urged to plant asclepias in their gardens. Every community is urged to plant milkweed in public gardens and spaces.  In St. Louis, the mayor even declared the Milkweed for Monarch Initiative.  Fifty butterfly gardens were scheduled to be planted along with asking for 200 more in 2014.  This would commemorate the 250th birthday of St. Louis.

There are native perennial and annual  tropical non- native milkweed plants.  I grow them both and monarchs love them both.  Here are a few:


Asclepias Curassavica – tropical milkweed.  This is my favorite in that it blooms the longest time, up until a hard frost. It is an annual and somewhat controversial in warmer climates because monarchs may not migrate where it blooms all year. It’s not a problem where frost kills this plant.  Sometimes it reseeds into the garden the next year.



Asclepias Incarnata – Native Perennial Swamp Milkweed. It grows 3 – 4 feet.  Pink flowers and can be used in a rain gardens. Likes moisture.


Asclepias tuberosa – Native perennial. Bright orange flowers, grows 2 – 3 feet tall.  Likes sun and dry.


Asclepias Syriaca  – Native Perennial – Common Milkweed. Pale pink flowers. Grows about 4 – 5 feet. Likes sun and somewhat dry.


There  are other  asclepias native perennial plants that grow in different regions.  These are Midwestern perennial ones.  All asclepias plants have seed pods that burst open with loads of seeds that eventually float away.  Grow some from seed, or dig in already grown plants. Now is a great time to plant perennials for next year’s blossoms and monarch migrations.

Here is a link from the National Resources Conservation Service that shows 76 of the native ascelpias plants in the U.S and Canada. Check out the ones for your area and find a way to plant them. There is a small green tab in the upper right hand corner that says “show all”.  Click that if all the maps below are not on the screen. Each map also can be clicked on to show more info about that specific plant.

I am  urging everyone I know to help save the majestic monarchs. They bring life and beauty into all our lives. It would be a sad world without them.

Enjoy, create and plant milkweed asclepias.





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