Thursday, November 10, 2016

Milkweed and Monarchs

Monarch Butterfly
Attracting wildlife to your landscape is a great step toward Florida-Friendly Landscaping™. Butterfly gardening is one way to create a habitat for wildlife. Many gardeners choose milkweed as part of a diverse planting used in attracting butterflies. Milkweed is a host plant for Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). However, going to your local box-store and picking up whatever species of milkweed is available may not be the best choice for Monarchs. Not just any Milkweed will do.

There are several species of Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) and many are native to Florida. However, the most commonly found is the non-native, Tropical or Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica). Tropical Milkweed produces flowers most of the year. These flowers are easily identified by their red, orange, and yellow flower heads. The problem is that when the native milkweeds have gone dormant, tropical milkweed is still flashing its bright colors and attracting Monarchs. During this time Monarch butterflies have a longer than normal breeding season and are more susceptible to a deadly parasite called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha.

It is best to choose native milkweed species. The most commonly found at your local native nurseries include Pinewoods Milkweed (Asclepias humistrata), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), White Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), Aquatic Milkweed (Asclepias perennis), and Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa).

Utilize the right plant, right place principle of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ when choosing a native milkweed for your garden. Each of these species has different soil moisture requirements ranging from dry to wet soils. Butterflyweed (A. tuberosa) and Pinewoods Milkweed (A. humistrata) are better suited for dry soil conditions. Whereas, Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata) and Aquatic Milkweed (A. perennis) prefer moist to wet soil conditions. White Milkweed (A. verticillata) is adaptable to both dry and moist soil conditions.

Non-native Tropical Milkweed
If you do have Tropical Milkweed in your garden, consider slowly replacing it with a native milkweed species. In the meantime, cut it back to about 6 inches above the ground during the months of October through February. This will mimic the normal dormancy of native milkweeds. This may require repeated maintenance to remove any new growth that may occur during this time.

For more information please contact the UF/IFAS Extension Polk County Florida-Friendly Landscaping™  Program at 863-519-1068 or

Daniels, Jaret. “Are Non-native Milkweeds Killing Monarch Butterflies?”. Florida Wildflower Foundation (blog).

Oliver, Katherine. “Creating a Healthy Monarch Habitat”.  UF/IFAS Extension Manatee County (blog).