Red-bordered Pixie butterfly is seen feeding on a scarlet
milkweed at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, TX.(
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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!