What are host plants?
Host plants are the vital food source that caterpillars live on. Adult butterflies will seek out these plants to lay their eggs on because they know that the caterpillar cannot travel far and will not survive if placed on a plant that they cannot eat.
The key to a successful butterfly garden is to plant both nectar and host plants so that the butterflies will have a food source in all stages of their life cycles. Nectar plants are simply plants that produce nectar as a reproductive strategy. Almost all flowering plants produce nectar and many host plants double as a nectar sources.
Why plant native?
The evolutionary relationship between butterflies and host plants is the main reason for planting native plants in your garden. As a defense mechanism, plants have evolved to produce chemical alkaloids, also known as secondary metabolites, in order to deter herbivory (wildlife feeding on plants). In response, each butterfly species has evolved to be resistant to the toxins of just a small number of plants so their caterpillars have something to feed on.
Few native butterfly species use exotic or non-native plants as their hosts because they haven't created an evolutionary relationship with them. When we plant non-native glasses and exotic ornamentals such as Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii), we often remove the vital food sources for caterpillars and this leads to decreased populations. Ironically, butterfly bush does not serve as a host plant for any native species of caterpillars. To find out which plants are native to your area visit the Native Plants Database.
Be prepared for your plants to be eaten.
It is important to remember that the leaves of these plants will get eaten but that is the whole point! For this reason, it might be a good idea to plant them in less visible areas.
Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Host plant for: Silvery Checkerspot, Gorgone Checkerspot, Bordered Patch butterfly
Host plant for: Pearl crescent, Painted Lady and more
Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
Host Plant for: Silvery Checkerspot and more
Hollyhock (Alcea spp.)
Dill (Antheum graveolens)
Host plant for: Black Swallowtail, Anise Swallowtail and more
NOTE: The Black Swallowtail will feed on any plants within the Parsley family.
Sunflower (Helianthus spp.)
Host plant for: Silvery Checkerspot, Painted Lady and more
Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.)
Host plant for: Monarch
Mallow (Malva spp.)
Violet (Viola spp.)
Host plant for: Great Spangled Fritillary, Variegated Fritillary, Falcate Orangetip, Meadow Fritillary and more
Tall Verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
Host plant for: Common Buckeye, White Peacock and more
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Douglas W. Tallamy, Publisher: Timber Press; Exp Upd edition (April 1, 2009)
Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner, Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1St Edition edition (August 14, 2005)
Butterflies and Moths of North America
Native Plant Database
Penn State Extension Office
If you have read our Blog on Common Monarch Ailments, you will find that there are many diseases, parasites and infections that can infect Monarch caterpillars. It is a common problem for many Monarch rearers but there are ways to prevent this from happening and also prevent it from spreading. Here is how to prevent disease from spreading once you suspect your Monarch may be infected.
What You Can Do
1. Isolate Your Caterpillar
If there is a chance of infection, move your caterpillar or chrysalis to an area by itself where it cannot infect other caterpillars. Use a milkweed leaf, gloves or brush to avoid touching the caterpillar directly. If you think you may have touched it, wash your hands afterwards.
TIP: If the caterpillar has reached chrysalis stage and something seems off, you can use a piece of floss or thread to remove the silk pad from the cage and move it to another area.
2. Clean Cage
Once you remove the potentially infected caterpillar, promptly disinfect the entire cage to prevent contamination to other caterpillars. To do this, remove the other cats and place them in a clean holding container until you are finished cleaning the cage. Also, replace old milkweed leaves with fresh leaves.
To disinfect cage you can use a weak bleach solution (about 1 to 10 parts bleach to water) or a natural disinfect such as Meyer's Multi-surface Cleaner. Use a spray bottle or dunk cage in a large tub and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly with water afterwards and allow to DRY before adding any caterpillars back in.
3. Keep A Close Eye on Your Sick Caterpillar
Check on the caterpillar every 4-6 hours to see if the case worsens. Keep the potentially dangerous Monarch separated until it reaches full metamorphosis to avoid spreading the ailment.
We wanted to share this inspiring story by one of our followers, John Perez, who has helped to create many Monarch educational opportunities within the Montebello Unified School District. We want to encourage all educators and teachers to participate in our Monarch School Program including those involved with 4-H, Scout troops, YMCA and other Community learning centers!
In the wild, Monarch eggs and larvae have a very small chance of survival. In fact, studies show that 90% of Monarchs do not survive the egg and larva stages.
1. Ventilated container
You can now buy these enclosures on our website!
You may also use aquariums, deli containers, clothing hampers but make sure they are clean and well-ventilated.
2. Paper towels or Newspapers
This is for lining the cage and simplifying clean-
3. Monarch caterpillars or eggs
These can be found outside on milkweed plants. Look carefully on the underside of leaves and on flower buds for eggs and larvae.
This can be grown in your own backyard or bought from a nursery. If you choose to buy from a nursery, make sure you ask if it has been sprayed with any pesticides which can be fatal to monarch caterpillars. Often nurseries will spray all of their plants with pesticides so your best bet is to grow it yourself. Plan for at least one plant per caterpillar.
5 Steps to Rearing Monarchs
Step 1: Find the eggs and/or caterpillars
The best way to do this is to visit milkweed plants daily that you know are already established and ,hopefully, already in your backyard! If you see a Monarch land on your milkweed plant, it is very likely they left an egg behind so check right away. Carefully look on the underside of the leaf, where they often lay eggs. 1st instar caterpillars and eggs are TINY so look very closely.
Step 2: Bring them inside
Once you find a caterpillar or egg, cut off the entire leaf or branch that the egg or caterpillar is on, bring it inside and put it in a glass of water to keep the cutting fresh. Put the eggs or caterpillars in the ventilated container of your choice after lining with newspaper or a rubber mat (for easy clean-up).
Eggs only take 4 days to hatch and caterpillars will form a chrysalis within 2 weeks. Caterpillars have a huge appetite and can eat 200X their weight in Milkweed! A single caterpillar can easily defoliate a milkweed planted in a 1 gallon container so plan accordingly. Provide fresh leaves daily or enclose the entire milkweed plant. Larvae will survive best and attain a large size if you keep the food fresh, the container clean, and the humidity low.
Step 3: Clean the cage regularly
Step 4: Keep feeding the hungry caterpillars!
It's important to remember that as the caterpillars get bigger, so will their appetite so keep a close eye on them and make sure you are providing enough fresh Milkweed. After the caterpillar reaches it’s 5th instar (molting stage) it will climb to the top of the container and begin spinning it's silk pad. It will not need any food at this stage so your job is mostly done.
Step 5: Release Your Butterfly Into the Wild
The chrysalis will turn clear before the adult butterfly emerges (fully metamorphosed). It is important not to touch them for at least 5 hours so their wings can dry. Keep an eye on the weather and do not release your Monarch if there is a storm on the horizon. You may need to move the butterfly into a larger container if this is the case such as an upside down laundry basket or a mesh cage
Please note that even in captivity, Monarchs can develop diseases, parasites, bacterial infections and other illnesses. The best way to prevent this from happening is to keep a very clean cage that is kept dry and not humid. For a list of common monarch ailments click here.
Furthermore, we do not support large scale monarch breeding operations or the sale of monarch caterpillars. We DO support responsible rearing of monarchs, especially in an educational environment.
Monarch Life Cycle
In March and April the eggs are laid on milkweed plants and it takes only 4 days for an egg to hatch!
According to Karen Oberhauser, Monarch biologist, captive monarch butterflies average about 700 eggs per female as opposed to 300-400 in the wild.
Monarch females usually lay a single egg on a milkweed plant on the bottom of leaf. So, when searching for eggs, don't forget to flip the leaf over! Eggs are very small and sometimes easy to miss!
Larval Stage (Caterpillar)
We also recommend Carol Pasternak's How to Raise Monarch Butterflies, an in-depth guide on Monarch rearing
Kelly R. Nail, Carl Stenoien, Karen S. Oberhauser, Immature Monarch Survival: Effects of Site Characteristics, Density, and Time, Annals of the Entomological Society of America, Volume 108, Issue 5, September 2015, Pages 680–690, https://doi.org/10.1093/aesa/sav047
University of Minnesota Monarch Lab. Monarch Life Cycle.
Ecology Online Sweden. 2004-2012.
There are more than 20 butterflies and moths listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service!
The main reason for these butterflies being placed under the Endangered Species Act is mainly due to loss of habitat (agriculture, commercial, residential). However, other reasons include: poor land management practices, excessive use of pesticides and herbicides, and loss of the butterfly's host plant that is necessary for it's growth and development.
If faced with the risk of extinction, any species can be put under the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). They are placed either as "threatened" and "endangered". To clarify those two terms: an “endangered” species is one that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A “threatened” species is one that could become endangered in the near future.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received a petition to list the Monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on August 26, 2014. The status is currently under review and will be released by June 2019.
Note: These butterflies are all listed as "Endangered" under the Endangered Species Act. The list is not exhaustive and the complete list can be found on the USFWS ECOS site here.
Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis)
Host plant: Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis)
Historical Range: Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin.
History and Description: The Karner blue butterfly was first described more than a century ago in Karner, New York. It is a small butterfly, with a wingspan of about one inch. The male's wings are distinctively marked with a silvery or dark blue color. The female is grayish brown, especially on the outer portions of the wings, to blue on the topside, with irregular bands of orange crescents inside the narrow black border. (ECOS- Environmental Conservation Online System)
While adult Karner blues feed on a variety of plants, wild lupine is the only known food plant for their larvae. Without wild lupine the cycle of life for this butterfly would be broken. Lupines are adapted to particular environmental conditions. The plants required by the larvae of the Karner blue, are found in savanna, barrens, and dune habitats which were once quite extensive. However, like many other places the habitats of the Karner blue have been subject to extensive development with a resulting decline in the butterfly. (USFWS Podcast Dave Harrelson)
Callippe silverspot butterfly (Speyeria callippe callippe)
Host plant: Johnny-jump- up (Viola pedunculata)
Historical Range: California
History: "The callippe silverspot was historically found around the eastern, southern, and western sides of San Francisco Bay, but is now limited to just seven sites. It is found in native grassland and adjacent habitats, where females lay their eggs on the larval food plant, Johnny-jump-up. The causes of the callippe silverspot’s decline are fairly clear: The vast majority of potential butterfly habitat lies under the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley, and what open areas remain within this butterfly’s range are dominated by introduced plant species. Many of these areas are also grazed by cattle, mined, or subject to heavy recreational use." (Xerxes Society)
Bartram's hairstreak butterfly (Strymon acis bartrami)
Host plant: Pineland croton (Croton linearis)
History: The Bartram's Hairstreak is a small butterfly approximately 1 inch (in) (25 millimeters (mm)) in length with a forewing length of 0.4 to 0.5 in (10 to 12.5 mm) and has an appearance characteristic of the genus. Despite its rapid flight, this hairstreak is easily observed if present at any density as it alights often, and the brilliance of its grey underside marked with bold white postdiscal lines beneath both wings provides an instant flash of color against the foliage of its hostplant, pineland croton (Croton linearis). (ECOS- USFWS)
Saint Francis' Satyr (Neonympha mitchellii francisci)
Host plant(s): Grasses, sedges, and rushes and are usually located in wet meadows
Range: North Carolina.
History: "The Saint Francis’ satyr occurs in the sandhills of Cumberland and Hoke counties, North Carolina, (a single metapopulation) and has a single record in Virginia. Soon after its discovery in the 1980s, it was believed that this butterfly had been collected to extinction, but happily it was rediscovered in 1992. Its habitat is wet meadows, previously likely created by fire or beaver activity, although now mainly maintained by human activity. Despite its protected status, it is still in demand by collectors". (Xerxes Society)
San Bruno elfin butterfly (Callophrys mossii bayensis)
Host Plant: Sedum spathulifolium. Montara Mountain colonies are suspected to use Montara manzanita (Arctostaphylos montaraensis) and California huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum). (Xerxes Society)
History: Its habitat has been diminished by quarrying, off- road recreation, and urban development. Development pressures on the San Francisco peninsula continue to grow, and the major threats to the butterfly— increased urbanization in the area, and loss of habitat by road construction and rock and sand quarrying—reflect this. Grazing may have encouraged the growth of exotic plants in the area. In the early 1980s, a habitat conservation plan was developed to allow development on San Bruno Mountain while minimizing the adverse effects on the San Bruno elfin butterfly and other rare species in the area. This plan is currently being amended, which may result in further urban development. (Xerxes Society)
Miami Blue (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri)
Range: Florida Keyes
History: This butterfly is one of the most endangered insects in the world. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, there were no sightings of this species again until 1999 in Bahia Honda State Park. All known individuals were thought to be gone as of 2010. This leaves only a few scattered individuals in another population in the Marquesas Keys in Key West National Wildlife Refuge. (ECOS- USFWS)
Schaus swallowtail (Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus)
Host plant(s): Torchwood and Wild lime
History: Listed on April 28th, 1976 as threatened, the Schaus swallowtail was the first butterfly to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, or ESA as the law is often referred to. This butterfly was originally described by William Schaus in 1911 from specimens collected in the south Miami area in 1898. The butterfly was originally distributed in southern Florida’s tropical hardwood hammocks from south Miami to Lower Matacumbe Key. Hardwood hammocks are a type of forest that is on ground that is slightly elevated above the surrounding landscape. These forests are essential for the survival of the butterfly. The ongoing loss of habitat and food plants was pushing the Schaus swallowtail even farther toward the brink of extinction. This resulted in the Fish and Wildlife Service reclassifying the butterfly to the more imperiled status of endangered in 1984. (Xerxes Society)
Palos verdes blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche lygdamus palosverdesensis)
Host Plant(s): Milkvetch and deerweed
Range: Palos Verdes Peninsula (Los Angeles County), California
History: The Palos Verdes Blue butterfly was listed as endangered in 1980 and was feared extinct until it was rediscovered in 1994. This butterfly's habitat is under constant threat of development. The population is also threatened by weed control, off-road vehicle use, non-native invasive plants, and fire suppression. Conservation initiatives include control of human use of the habitat, replanting of the host species, and a captive breeding program. (Xerxes society)
Florida leafwing butterfly (Anaea troglodyta floridalis)
Host plant: Pineland Croton
Description and History: The Florida leafwing is a medium-sized butterfly approximately 2.75 to 3 inches (in) (76 to 78 millimeters (mm)) in length. The upper-wing (or open wing) surface color is red to red-brown, the underside (closed wings) is gray to tan, with a tapered outline, cryptically looking like a dead leaf when the butterfly is at rest. The Florida leafwing exhibits sexual dimorphism, with females being slightly larger and with darker coloring along the wing margins than the males. The Florida leafwing occurs only within pine rocklands that retain its hostplant, pineland croton.
Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly (Boloria acrocnema)
Host plant: Snow willows (Salix nivalis)
Historical range: Colorado.
Description and History: The Uncompahgre fritillary is a small butterfly with a 2-3 cm (1 inch) wingspan. Males have rusty brown wings criss-crossed with black bars; females’ wings are somewhat lighter. Underneath, the forewing is light ocher and the hindwing has a bold, white jagged bar dividing the crimson brown inner half from the purple-grey scaling on the outer wing surface. The body has a rusty brown thorax and a brownish black abdomen. The Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly was discovered on Uncompahgre Peak, Hinsdale County, Colorado on July 30, 1978. It was subsequently described as a new species. (ECOS- USFWS)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ECOS Environmental Conservation Online System
Butterflies and Moths of North America.
Endangered Butterflies and Plants - USFS Podcast with Dave Harrelson
Milkweed seed bombs are fun and easy to make and a great way to create Monarch habitat. Seed bombs are also the perfect winter project to get kids interested in gardening and the environment!
So, what is a seed bomb?
How do seed bombs work?
- The clay protects the seed from drying out in the sun
- The seed bombs are heavy enough to not be affected by wind or heavy rains
- The clay casing deters animals from eating them
- The shape of the ball conserves moisture
- The compost provide nutrients for the seeds
- As the seeds begin to germinate and grow, they provide shade for the next generation of seeds
All of this adds up to increased germination rates and a self-sustaining system!
STEP 1: Gather Your Ingredients
STEP 2: Mix Compost, Clay and Water together
Pro Tip: For me, 1 cup of both made 15 quarter-sized seed bombs. You can use this recipe to multiply it to make your desired amount of seed balls.
Step 3: Roll into balls
Step 4: Add Seeds
Save Our Monarchs has special offers on bulk seeds. Use promo code 'Seedbomb' for 10% off!
1/2 oz 1,500 seeds $25 = 100 bombs
1 oz 3,000 seeds $50 = 200 bombs
4 oz 12,000 seeds $75 = 800 bombs
16 oz 48,000 seeds $135 = 3200 bombs
IMPORTANT NOTE: Germination rates will be greatly reduced if not planted correctly! Milkweed seeds can be very slow to germinate and does take some time and patience. For best results and to speed up the germination process, place the seeds in wet paper towels in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 30 days prior to planting.
Step 5: Reshape into a ball and allow to dry
Lay seed bombs out on a newspaper or cardboard box and allow to dry for 24-48 hours or until hard. Avoid drying them on plastic to avoid mold.
After drying, you can also store the seed bombs in an airtight container in a cool, dry place until it’s time to plant. Mason jars or glass Tupperware work well for this!
How to plant your milkweed seed bombs
Pre-stratified seeds, can be planted in the Spring after the first frost has passed.
You can also plant in the Fall once there have been a few frosts and there is no chance the seeds will germinate before Spring.
How: Simply throw the seed bombs onto bare soil. With a little water, plenty of sunlight and compost, your seed bombs will germinate and become a beautiful haven for Monarch butterflies!
We all know that monarch larvae eat milkweed plants, but what about the other insects that share a food source with Monarchs?
The truth is, most of these insects serve a purpose within their respective ecosystems. The reason that many of them are black and orange like Monarchs is that they use the same defense mechanism called "aposematism" where their black and orange coloration warns predators of their toxic/bitter taste caused by cardiac glycosides which they acquire from milkweed.
Learn how to identify these insects and find out if they are harmful or harmless to Monarchs!
Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus)
Harmful to Monarch caterpillars/eggs? No. They are herbivores and only eat milkweed. They are harmless to monarch larvae and eggs so you can leave them on your milkweed plant if you have enough to go around.
Identification: Red/orange in color with oval spots all over body and un-ringed antennae.
Life Cycle: Eggs laid on stems near ground or just below surface; larvae bore into stems, overwinter in roots, and pupate in spring; adults emerge in early summer
Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii)
Harmful to Monarch caterpillars/eggs? Sometimes. They are mostly herbaceous and will suck nectar from flowers and sometimes feed on milkweed seeds. However, they have been reported to be predators, especially in spring when milkweed seeds are scarce. They have been reported feeding on honey bees, monarch caterpillars and pupae, and dogbane beetles, among others (Root 1986). The best method to remove the bugs from your milkweed plant is to grab them and throw them into a bucket of soapy water.
They adult is black with a broad orange/red band on forewing, forming an "X" shape. Their head is black with a dull red spot on top. In eastern specimens, forewings are all black, but in western specimens they have large white spots. (Bugguide.net)
Eggs are laid on milkweed in spring. One or more generations per year. Adults overwinter.
Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus)
Harmful to Monarch caterpillars/eggs? No, they do not feed on Monarch larvae or eggs so they are harmless and play a role in the ecosystem. However, they do feed on the seeds, leaves and stems of milkweeds (Asclepias). Damage to the plants can deplete resources for Monarch caterpillars. Planting more milkweed will ensure that they both have enough to eat.
Identification: Adults are overall black and orange- with black band in the middle and two large black spots in front and back. Nymphs are bright orange and develop black spots late.
Life Cycle: Eggs are laid in milkweed seed pods or in crevices between pods. About 30 eggs are laid a day, and about 2,000 over a female's lifespan, which lasts about a month during the summer. One or more generations per year. They can't survive cold winters, so they migrate south in the fall. They overwinter in the southern Atlantic and Gulf coast states where they feed and breed and gradually migrate north again in the spring and summer. (bugguide.net)
Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis)
Harmful to Monarch caterpillars/eggs? Technically, no, because they are herbaceous. However they do feed on milkweeds, especially Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), but also Common Milkweed (A. syriaca). To control populations from eating all of your milkweed, you can pick them off and put them in a soapy bucket of water.
Life Cycle: They often overwinter as adults among leaves such as mullein (Verbascum). Adults mate on or around milkweed. Eggs are cemented to the underside of leaves. Larvae feed on leaves, and drop to ground to pupate (National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders)
Note: Unlike the Monarch, larvae and adults of the milkweed leaf beetle are not thought to sequester cardiac glycosides from their milkweed host.
Missouri Botanical Garden
Milne, Lorus and Margery. National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders
Red Milkweed Beetle Profile
Small Milkweed Bug Profile
1. The surface of a Monarch's wing is covered with thousands of tiny, colorful scales. Loss of these scales is what causes Monarchs to lose their color!
The tiny scales on the wings of Monarchs have been studied by biologists and aerospace engineers alike to better understand how they affect flight. (Source)
2. The Monarch caterpillar is a voracious eater and they can gain about 2700 times their original weight!
3. Two black spots on the inside surface of their hind wings distinguish male Monarch butterflies from the females.
4. Monarch and Viceroy butterflies utilize Müllerian mimicry in order to mutually co-mimic each other and warn predators of their toxicity.
MThe main visual difference between the viceroy and monarch butterfly is the black line drawn across the viceroy's hind wings, which monarch butterflies do not have. The Viceroy is also a bit smaller than the Monarch. The caterpillars of Monarchs and Viceroys look very different as well.
This is not merely a coincidence but a means of survival for these butterflies. There is a name for this phenomenon called Müllerian mimicry- “a form of mimicry in which two or more noxious animals develop similar appearances as a shared protective device”.
5. One female Monarch butterfly can lay an average of 300 and 500 eggs in the wild. Captive monarch butterflies average about 700 eggs per female over 2 to 5 weeks of egg laying, with a record of 1179 eggs in captivity!
Monarch females usually lay a single egg on a milkweed plant, often on the bottom of a leaf near the top of the plant. Eggs are only about the size of a pencil tip and are off-white or yellow, characterized by longitudinal ridges that run from the tip to the base. The eggs hatch about four days after they are laid (University of Minnesota, Monarch Lab).
6. Monarchs that emerge in the warmer months will become sexually mature within 5 days. However, migrating monarchs will emerge in reproductive diapause (suspension of reproductive development) and will not reproduce until Spring.
7. The Monarch's studded gold chrysalises are created by the coupling of a carotenoid pigment and a hill-like structure that reflects light from the peaks. They get the carotenoids from their diet of milkweed.
In monarch butterflies and a few others the gold is created by a coupling of a carotenoid pigment and a hill-like structure that reflects light from the peaks. They get the carotenoids from their diet of milkweed. If the caterpillars are fed an artificial diet lacking carotenoids then the would-be golden crown develops as silver in the chrysalis.
Here are some hypotheses for the reasons that Monarchs have metallic-looking spots on their pupae:
- Camouflage- the golden studs might increase their camouflage by looking like dew droplets on leaves and reflecting leaves on the surface
- Warning- to deter predators they might be showing aposematic or warning coloration
- Protecting from harmful sun rays (unlikely but who knows?)
- They might not have any function but just be the result of something else in the cuticle of the insect. (Source)
8. Monarch butterflies smell and taste with their antennae and legs which are covered with sensory cells called chemoreceptors. These chemoreceptors help Monarchs find milkweed to lay their eggs on.
Dr. Bill Calvert describes what he observes in the field: "The female flits over the field and, when she stops on a plant, she drums the surface with her forelegs." She is basically putting tiny cuts into the plant in order for the chemicals to be released and for her to tell if it is indeed milkweed.
"Monarchs use a combination of visual and chemical cues to find milkweed," says monarch scientist Dr. Karen Oberhauser. "Once they land on a plant, they use sensory organs on their feet and heads to tell them if it is a milkweed, and probably the quality of the milkweed." (Journey North)
9. An overwintering Monarch typically lives 7-8 months compared to other generations that only live 2-6 weeks.
10. Milkweed contains toxins called cardiac glycosides and Monarch caterpillars will ingest and store these toxins to make themselves toxic to predators such as birds.
Oberhauser, KS. 1997. Fecundity, lifespan and egg mass in butterflies: effects of male-derived nutrients and female size. Functional Ecology 11: 166-175 https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1046/j.1365-2435.1997.00074.x
Rothschild M, Gardnier B, Mummery R. 1978. The role of carotenoids in the “golden glance” of danaid pupae (Insecta: Lepidoptera). Journal of Zoology 186: 351-358.
University of Minnesota Monarch Lab
Did you know that Milkweed is one of the most useful and versatile plants in the world? Not only is it a vital plant-food for Monarchs, it is extremely useful for us as a source of food, medicine and fiber.
From it's historical uses in World War II to it's use as a nematicide, Milkweed's many uses may just surprise you!
- The young shoots, flower buds, immature fruits, and roots of butterfly milkweed were boiled and prepared as a food-source by various indigenous groups of eastern and mid-western America throughout history.
- During World War II, milkweed quite literally saved hundreds if not thousands of lives. In 1943, a milkweed seed and floss-extracting plant was created in Michigan which provided the armed forces with over two million pounds of plant material used to stuff 1.2 million life-vests! (Berkman, 1949)
- In 1892, Charles Millspaugh recorded the early medical history of butterfly milkweed, also known as pleurisy root. He stated that it is a proven remedy for certain forms of dry coryza, indigestion, colic, diarrhea, dry coughs, pleurisy, rheumatic pains, and some skin affections (1974, p. 540).
- The milky white sap is sometimes applied topically to remove warts.
Caution: Some people have allergic reaction to the milky sap and avoid contact with your eyes by washing hands thoroughly after touching.
- Famous ethnobotanist, Melvin Gilmore, wrote that the Omahas and Poncas ate the raw root of the butterfly milkweed for bronchial and pulmonary troubles and also as a treatment for wounds (1977).
- The Lakota's name for green milkweed is "hu cinska" which describes the shape of the leaf. The pulverized roots of green milkweed were used to treat children with diarrhea (Rogers, 1980, p. 34). The Blackfeet also used the root of green milkweed to relieve sore throats (Hellson, 1974, p. 71).
- Common milkweed has been used for food by the Omaha-Ponca, Winnebago and Pawnee tribes in all three stages of it's growth, from young sprouts to floral buds to young fruits (Gilmore, 1977, p. 57)
- Experienced foragers still enjoy eating young milkweed sprouts (after being boiled) but only when identified properly. Refer to my Milkweed Identification blog if you aren't sure or pick up a field guide to help you. If you are confident in your identification skills are are looking for ways to prepare milkweed refer to Kay Young's book, Wild Seasons, for more ideas.
Note: All species of the Milkweed (Asclepias) family are known to contain cardiac glycosides that are poisonous to animals and humans. Monarchs have used these as their chemical defense against predators. Viceroy butterflies are a classic example of Batesian mimicry and also benefit from milkweed. Although they are not poisonous and do not eat Milkweed, predators confuse them for Monarchs and will avoid them.
- Milkweed is currently being commercially used for stuffing pillows and comforters which proves more cost-effective and sustainable then down or synthetic fibers (Nehring, 2014).
- The fluff of the milkweed pods prove to be a wonderful fire starter!
- In current research by the USDA, a chemical extracted from the seed is being tested as a pesticide for nematodes (O'kuru, 1999).
- Tewa-speaking people of the Rio Grande still make string and rope from these fibers
- Over the years, researchers have investigated growing milkweed for paper-making, textiles, and lubricants, and as a substitute for fossil fuels and rubber (Lohmiller).
We hope that Milkweed continues be grown and protected in order to provide sustenance, medicine, and a habitat for many creatures of the world, including humans!
Harry-O'kuru, R.E., Mojtahedi H., Vaughn S.F, Dowd, P.F.,...Abbott, T.P. "Milkweed seedmeal: a control for Meloidogyne chitwoodi on potatoes." Industrial Crops and Products 9, 1999, pp. 145-150. USDA. 'https://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/25487/PDF'
Kindscher, K. 1992. Medicinal wild plants of the prairie. An ethnobotanical guide. University Press of Kansas. pp. 54-58.
Lohmiller, G., Lohmiller, B. "Common Milkweed Uses and Natural Remedies." The Old Farmer's Almanac. 'https://www.almanac.com/content/common-milkweed-uses-and-natural-remedies'
Gilmore, M.R. 1977. Uses of plants by the Indians of the Missouri River region. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 55-57.
Nehring, J. "The potential of milkweed floss as a natural fiber in the textile industry." Journal of Undergraduate Research. 2014. University of Kansas. 'https://kuscholarworks.ku.edu/bitstream/handle/1808/15034/Nehring_jur14.pdf;sequence=1'
Shakyawar, D. B., Dagur, R. S., & Gupta, N. P. (1999). Studies on milkweed fibres. Chicago
Garden Educator, Naturalist and Ethnobotanist