Milkweed…the ones I planted and the ones Mother Nature planted

by Donna Lewis

I wanted to show you what milkweed is growing on our property here in Central Texas.  The biggest issue is that some of these plants came up very late in the year and by now, all the monarchs have already left the area. That is not too good.   

Hopefully, this does not start becoming normal. The plants are reacting to the climate, but the monarchs are reacting to their instincts.  The plants and the butterflies need to be ready at the same time.

The first photo is Asclepias asperula or Spider Milkweed.  This plant was awarded by a grant to our chapter.  Our member Cathy Johnson applied for the grant. It was a lot of paperwork.

I started with twenty-four small plants. I put them in several areas around our pastures.

This is the only one that has returned this year.  The rest did not come up.

Photo #2 is the seed pod on the plant, which is about to let loose its seeds.

Photo #3  shows the same plant in our back pasture.

Photo#4  This is another area where we had the plants return for two years, but not this year.  There were gophers under the plant.   I guess they were hungry.

Photo#5  This shows Zizotes Milkweed on our gravel drive where they just came up on their own.  Volunteers for sure.  There are three plants near our backdoor.

#6  This is another Zizotes in the pasture that just showed up.

#7  Another Zizotes in a different part of the pasture.

#8  Tropical Milkweed in my garden.  This needed to be bigger before now. Tropical milkweed is from Mexico.

You’re too late, milkweed plants.  The last monarch I saw here on our property was on 5-17-2022.  You can see where the monarchs are by viewing Journey North, monarchs’ migration.  It is a great site.

We will have to pay attention and see what happens to both the milkweed and the monarchs over the next few years.

Still, we need to keep on planting the native milkweed to try to help out.

Monarchs and Other Butterflies

by Catherine Johnson

Next year we will continue our Milkweed/Monarch project and create a network for sharing milkweed, info and habitats. A recent Monarch seminar taught us how to raise milkweed from seed. We’ll create here a walk-in enclosure in the Milam Wildscape for the project.

To follow up on Lisa’s post yesterday, it turns out that 10% of caterpillars make it to butterflies and 10% of those survive full adulthood.  Two of my butterflies were born with wrinkled wings, so I fed them sugar water, took them for outside trips, and after a couple of weeks they passed peacefully. Other
options were to euthanize or leave outside. This way they had a good life.

Gulf fritilary chrysalis

We are watching Gulf Fritillary chrysalises  now.  They look like leaves to fool predators.

Monarch Caterpillars on Antelope Horn Milkweed

By Lisa Milewski

On May 2, 2020 as part of the Milkweed Monarch Watch Project, I met Cathy Johnson in Rockdale to pick up some coveted antelope horn milkweed that I divided with my sister (eight for me and seven for her).  There was excitement as I planted and watched these babies grow over the next year, as well as the tribulations in caring for them through rain, drought, aphids, and the freeze/snow.

February 14, 2021 – The Freeze! Everything including my precious milkweed covered in snow. 

Spring 2021 – Making a comeback.

April 2021- The milkweed not only survived the freeze, they thrived!  Looking good!

May 2, 2021 – 2.81” of rain according to my rain gauge and reporting to CoCoRAHS and on May 3, 2021 another 1.13”.

And then a double rainbow end to end.

May 17, 2021 – Great recovery from rain

Even my two flame acanthus bushes are coming back which the hummingbirds love.  Don’t worry, I pulled all those invasives in the back of the garden out.  Especially that tall monster in the center. 

June 7, 2021 – Aphids on the milkweeds – Oh no you don’t!  I made a soap/water concoction to spray on the aphids and although it took care of them, it also just about did my milkweeds in. They all shriveled up and dried out but amazingly they all came back. Cathy Johnson had suggested putting flour on them the next time. 

July 19, 2021 – I was beside myself to see the first monarch caterpillar on one of the milkweeds. The excitement and adrenaline overwhelmed me.

After seeing white wing doves among other birds hanging around my garden, I covered it with an enclosure I already had from when I was protecting some black swallowtail caterpillars on my dill last year. 

July 20, 2021 – The last couple of days I have been obsessed with checking on the caterpillar several times a day and found two more on the other milkweeds and placed another enclosure over those.  Unfortunately, that side didn’t have as many milkweed leaves so again I sought advisement from Cathy and she said I could try sliced organic cucumbers. 

July 22, 2021 – They are major munchers!  I am beginning to worry if there is enough milkweed so I added more sliced organic cuccumbers.   

July 22, 2021 – Found more caterpillars for a total of six.  Two on the other side and four in the first enclosure where I spotted the first one. 

July 23, 2021 – Armyworm eating the caterpillars’ milkweed.  I relocated it before it was ID’d. 

July 24, 2021 – Cathy suggested providing some shade so I cut out old cotton t-shirts and used clothes pins to attach to enclosures.

July 24, 2021 – Looks like it is looking for the perfect spot to begin the transformation. 

July 24, 2021- These beauties are getting bigger by the day.

By the next day the milkweeds were completely devoured.  Now I’m panicking. 

I decided to take cuttings from the milkweeds on the opposite side of the garden and place in cut water bottles with tape along the top with a hole only big enough for the stem to fit so that the caterpillars wouldn’t be able to fall or get inside the water filled bottles.

Now this one is looking for the perfect spot to transform. 

July 25, 2021 – The floral vials I ordered came in so I took more cuttings of the milkweeds from the opposite side of garden.

By the next day, all but one of the caterpillars got out of the enclosures.  I looked all over to see where they may have gone to begin their transformations but I could not locate any of them.  This is the last of the six. 

July 26, 2021- The last one that stayed inside the enclosure has begun to form the “J” which is the beginning of the transformation to a chrysalis.   

As I take a closer look, I notice a trail of ants that ended on the caterpillar. I’m frantically trying to figure out how to get rid of them without harming the caterpillar which is beginning to transform. I did not see one ant this whole time until now. I laid out ant bait traps in their path and notice they are all over the caterpillar. Cathy suggested gently drizzling water over the caterpillar to try and get them off, which I did, but in a manner of minutes the poor thing was devoured, resembling a dry shell and ultimately did not survive. I was heartbroken and devastated. 

Lessons learned:

  1. Have plenty of milkweed so I won’t be scrambling to make sure there is enough.
  2. Transplant the milkweed I currently have into pots, so that I can move the whole pot into the enclosures and move them to a safe location free from birds, armyworms, ants, etc.
  3. Learn more about how to keep the habitat clean to prevent any bacteria or diseases.
  4. Learn more about what to do if they do survive to form a chrysalis, as well as when they become a butterfly: caring for it and when and where to release it.

It took me a couple of months to even talk about this, let alone write a blog about it. What started as complete utter excitement and joy turned to such disappointment and sadness. However, I will not let all this be for nothing. I learned a great deal on this short-lived journey, and it truly amazes me that any caterpillars survive against all the odds. Now, every time I see a monarch butterfly I get that glimmer of hope, knowing how strong they are and that they will prevail!