By Norman Winter

Tribune News Service

As we all strive to get our hands on every native milkweed for our states and to the ultimate benefit of the Monarch butterfly I thought I might plug its use for the other guys. Your first thought might be I’m talking about the Queen or Soldier butterflies that are related to the Monarch and also must have milkweeds as larval host plants.

That’s important too, but I am speaking for the ability of the milkweed this time to be a nectar source for butterflies and hummingbirds. In other words, we love milkweeds because they are extraordinarily beautiful and intricate in their design making them great plants for the landscape or the backyard wildlife habitat. Of course, Monarchs, Queens, and Soldiers butterflies could not survive without them.

If you stop and pay attention, however, you’ll notice milkweeds are like the ‘pollinator luncheon junction’ for an assortment of butterflies. Currently in the hill country of Texas not too far from San Marcos, Wimberly and Dripping Springs you’ll find the Antelope Horn milkweeds (Asclepias asperula) blooming everywhere.

My brother, scouting for monarch and queen caterpillars like everyone else, was stunned to find thirteen or more hairstreak butterflies and bees, too, hitting on the blossoms. I’m a hairstreak lover from way back so this excites me about as much as monarchs.

There were gray hairstreaks and numerous Juniper hairstreaks. If you have never seen this green and rusty orange Juniper hairstreak with white bands you are missing a real treat. Speaking of hair streaks, I have been treated once in Texas and once in Georgia to what I consider the most beautiful of all, the Great Purple Hairstreak, appreciating the milkweed nectar.

At the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, I photographed the Red-bordered Pixie feeding on milkweed. Many enthusiasts have this butterfly at the top of their so-called must-see bucket list.

When you consider that hummingbirds and bees also frequent milkweeds then there is surely the impetus for the nursery industry to maximize production of milkweeds and the gardening public to open the pocketbook and purchase.

Grow several of these, and your family will experience the whole lifecycle of the butterfly. The landscape itself will also become a picture of the color. Plant them in full sun with fertile well-drained soil, and you will find them to be virtually maintenance free.

Once you have yours planted, then the fun begins. Unbeknown to you, unless you are watching, eggs will be laid, we call this ovipositing. These eggs will soon hatch into caterpillars that are as exotic looking as the butterflies. Unless you live in the South, you only see the Monarch caterpillar on your milkweed.

This is a cause for family celebration. These caterpillars will eat, and they do so with a voracious appetite lasting for around two weeks. You might think this stripping of the foliage would prove to be the demise of the plant but in no-time, you will have more leaves and flowers.

The caterpillars will seem to disappear. They will be attaching themselves head downward and shedding their skin. Now it is time to go on the hunt for what is known as a chrysalis.

Chrysalis is another name for pupa. You will find these hanging almost unnoticed on the underside of the leaf, or a branch. I have also found them hanging from the wire of a nearby fence and even the eave of the house. The chrysalis looks green but in reality, it is clear, and colors become apparent as the Monarch gets closer to emergence.

This is the kind of fun that the kids or grandkids will enjoy, and the experience will make lasting memories. Adding to the memories will not just be watching the lifecycle of Monarch butterflies but the graceful flight and nectaring of an assortment of butterflies and hummingbirds too!

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