Joe Pye Weed is the Queen of the Meadow

Joe Pye Weed, also known as Spotted Joe Pye Weed, or Queen of the Meadow is a herbaceous native perennial wildflower found throughout much of the United States and Canada. It must be called “Queen of the Meadow” due to the number of butterfly and pollinator parties it hosts!

Tiny mauve flowers of Joe Pye Weed bloom in large clusters atop the stems. These flowers have a sweet vanilla scent.

 

Joe Pye Weed is an outstanding garden plant and will flourish in any rich garden soil. Reaching heights of 4 to 6 feet, it is topped with huge clusters of mauve flower heads on tall straight stems which are so rich in pollen and nectar that they are like a magnet for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus), Common Buckeye, and Tiger Swallowtail are just some of the butterflies attracted to these fragrant flowers.

Joe Pye Weed does best in average, medium to wet soils in full sun, but tolerates some light afternoon shade in hot summer climates. You can cut the plants to the ground in late winter.

Joe Pye Weed is a very tall plant, up to six feet tall, but strong stems support the flowering plant so it rarely needs to be staked. Click here to purchase seeds.

This is a very low-maintenance native perennial that is simply stunning when planted in groups. It does require large space to grow, but it’s can make a great impact on the back of borders, in cottage gardens, meadows, native plant gardens, wild, naturalized areas, and of course, butterfly gardens.

Tropical Milkweed

Despite the bad rap it has gotten in the past few years, one of my very favorite flowers in the butterfly garden is Asclepias curassavica also known as Tropical Milkweed, Bloodflower, Scarlett Milkweed, and Mexican Butterfly Weed.

A female Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is nectaring on the bloom of this Tropical Milkweed,

There are many other types of milkweed but Asclepias curassavica is one of the Monarch butterfly’s favorite host plants. Here are eight reasons why it is my personal favorite milkweed.

1. Flowers bloom continuously from spring to fall in temperate climates and in tropical climates they will flower all year.

2. Asclepias curassavica is easy to grow from seeds and is a fast grower.

No need to cold-stratify Tropical Milkweed. Just add the seeds and watch them grow! Click here to purchase seeds.

3. You can also propagate from stem cuttings.

If you have potting soil and containers available, simply place the stems directly into the potting soil. Keep the soil moist until you start to see leaves sprouting from the nodes (the bumps on the stems where leaves used to be). At the same time, roots will be growing from the nodes underground. These are 4-inch (10 cm) nursery pots.

4. Tropical Milkweed is tolerant of different soil types,  growing well in dry, moist, and wet soils.

5. Tropical milkweed can be planted in containers.

Plant Tropical Milkweed in a large plastic or terracotta container for ease of moving. Also, if you grow the milkweed in containers, you can bring them inside to overwinter.

 

6. Asclepias curassavica attracts both Monarch and Queen butterflies because they use it as a host plant.

Queen (Danaus gilippus) and Monarch (Danaus plexippus) deposting eggs on Tropical Milkweed.

7. Many species of butterflies will nectar on the tropical milkweed flowers.

Tiger Swallowtail, White Peacock, Black Swallowtail, and Spicebush Swallowtail.

8. Hummingbirds also like to feed on the blooms.

Photo by Rhonda Cantu, used with permission.

Tropical Milkweed is a perennial in zones 8-11. It will grow year-round in zones 9b-11. In zones 8-9 it will die back to return in the spring. Elsewhere in the US and Canada, it is grown as an annual.

If you live in zones 9b-11 where the Tropical Milkweed stays green all year it is recommended to cut it back in the fall or winter so new growth will form. The reason is that Monarchs can get a parasite called OE. OE is a protozoan parasite that is spread to any milkweed plants when an infected adult butterfly flies over the plants. The flapping of monarch butterfly wings exfoliate the OE spores and the spores fall like glitter and stick to the milkweed. When a caterpillar ingests the leaves with the spores they become infected. These spores can survive on the leaves of any Milkweed. So, if Milkweed does not die back and gets new growth then the OE spores may stay present and continue to re-infect caterpillars. This is not an issue in areas where Tropical Milkweed (or any other Milkweed for that matter) dies back in the winter.

Tropical Milkweed should be cut back at least once a year about six inches from the soil.

Since I live in USDA Zone 9b where Tropical Milkweed lives year-round, I cut the plant back twice a year, once in mid-summer and again in late December or in January. I will also cut it back once it gets leggy. This does two things, one, it removes a build-up of OE spores on the plant that can be harmful to the Monarch, and two, it encourages branching and therefore produces a healthier plant and more flower clusters.

This wall of Tropical milkweed growing in my garden attracts Monarchs, Queens, and many other butterflies.

Additional Resources:

Tropical Milkweed -Yes or No? by Edith Smith

Choice of Plant Reduces Parasitic Load: Tropical Milkweed

Tropical Milkweed and the Injurious Effects of Well-Meaning People by Jeffery Glassberg

What is OE by Project Monarch Heath

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Butterfly Season

Click Here or on the book to obtain your copy of The Language of Butterflies by Wendy Williams.

My friend Wendy Williams, author of the book The Language of Butterflies, asked, “Christmas is over. When do we get to the Good Stuff? When does Butterfly Season finally start?”

Fortunately for me because I live in south Texas, and for others who live in temperate and tropical climes, butterfly season never ends. We get to enjoy seeing many different species of native butterflies throughout the winter.

I am still seeing several Queen (Danaus gilippus) butterflies in my garden here in South Texas.

There are also many butterfly exhibits where you can enjoy seeing beautiful tropical butterflies year-round in the United States and Canada.

There are many butterfly exhibits where you can enjoy seeing butterflies year-round. To see a list of butterfly exhibits click here.

I also would like to argue that the butterfly season never ends for people who live where it snows. Many butterflies that live in cold climates spend the winter as caterpillars, while almost as many spend the winter as pupae. A few species, mainly the California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica), Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), and Comma (Polygonia comma) spend the winter as adults, hibernating in holes in trees, in crevices in man-made structures, or in other shelters. A very few species spend the winter as eggs. By leaving autumn leaves un-raked and yards a little messy with debris, we allow safe places for them to snooze the winter away.

While many butterflies can overwinter in the chrysalis form, there is one that ecloses as an adult in the fall and remains a butterfly for the winter. That champion of the deep freeze is the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa). This butterfly finds shelter under loose tree bark, in open sheds, or hides away in woodpiles.

Winter is the perfect time of year to start planning for the butterflies when warmer weather arrives. If you enjoy seeing butterflies in your garden, then you not only need to plant flowers that feed the adults but also plant host plants that will feed the caterpillars of those butterflies.

For gardeners who like easy-care plants, native wildflowers can be the foundation of the garden. They’re easy to grow, never weedy, and they attract and nourish wildlife, including birds, bees, beneficial insects, and butterflies. Click Here or click on the flower and butterfly photos to shop for seeds.

There are many excellent books available as well as online resources to help you learn about the butterflies native to your area and the plants that will attract them. Start finding out about different plants and trees so that you will know what to plant to create a habitat for the butterflies. Start making a list.

Two books I highly recommend are Gardening for Butterflies by the Xerces Society and Raising Butterflies in the Garden by Brenda Dziedzic.

And now is the time to start purchasing seeds! Click Here.

Many seeds, especially native milkweeds and native perennials, need to be cold-stratified for 3 to 6 weeks. If you live where it snows, I think the easiest way to cold stratify seeds is using the milk jug method.

To learn more about cold-stratifying seeds in milk jugs click here.

Seeds can also be cold stratified in the refrigerator. Simply place the seeds on a wet piece of paper towel or sand inside a plastic container or Ziplock bag and place them in the refrigerator. Leave them there for 3-6 weeks or until you are ready to plant them.

Thanks to BASF Living Acres for permission to use this photo!

As you can see, Butterfly Season has already started. Enjoy the flowers and the butterflies!

Helping Monarch Butterflies

Recently, I learned about a  group of eighth-grade students in New Jersey who wanted to give away Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) seeds to people in their community. They found out I also was giving away Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seeds so they contacted me.

These ambitious students wanted to do something which would make a lasting impact in their town. They discussed how much they liked being outdoors and believed that because of the pandemic they wanted to do something to encourage others to go outside to appreciate nature more. Learning about a USDA project encouraging farmers to plant Milkweed, they felt a need to help Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterflies by planting Milkweed, the only plant Monarch butterflies lay eggs on. So the group decided to encourage people in their community to plant Milkweed.

Click here or on the image to open their Facebook page.

The students created a Facebook page called NJ Monarchs and posted a link to an online survey to find people who would be interested in planting Milkweed in their gardens. The response for the free seeds far exceeded their expectations. They’ve received 1,000 requests for Milkweed seeds, so far. They have been working hard making seed packets and mailing them out to people who requested the seeds.

Students left to right in the photo: Sadie Smith, Elizabeth Gillen, Sophia Gillen, and Manu Soriano.

These dedicated students are encouraging their neighbors, churches, and local businesses to certify their property as National Wildlife Habitats. They collaborated with a local church, which recently was certified, and scattered seeds on the side of the church, which will provide plants for pollinators, next spring.

These motivated youngsters now are working on another project with a local wildlife photographer to create an educational packet for younger students.

My hat goes off to these young people and their efforts to help Monarch butterflies!

Click here to learn ways you can help Monarch butterflies!

Tagging Monarch Butterflies

Each fall Monarch Watch distributes more than a quarter of a million tags to thousands of volunteers across North America who tag Monarchs as they migrate through their respective areas. These “citizen scientists” capture monarchs throughout the migration season, record the tag code, tag date, gender of the butterfly, and geographic location, then tag and release them. At the end of the tagging season, these data are submitted to Monarch Watch and added to their database to be used in research.

Carol Pasternak, The MonarchButterfly Crusader, is catching monarchs in Ontario in order to tag them.

Tags are tiny, lightweight, round stickers. They are a little larger than a hole-punch, about 9 mm in diameter. Each tag has a unique ID number. When a tag is recovered (found again), valuable information about migration is revealed.

The tag is placed on the underside of the hindwing of the Monarch. This tagging method places the tag close to the center of lift and gravity for the butterfly so as to not interfere with flight or otherwise harm the butterfly.

According to Monarch Joint Adventure, “The purpose of tagging Monarchs is to associate the location of original capture with the point of recovery for each butterfly. The data from these recaptures are used to determine the pathways taken by migrating Monarchs, the influence of weather on the migration, the survival rate of the Monarchs.

Coded tags are attached to Monarchs when they are captured before or during their southbound migration, and recovered when Monarchs are resighted or found throughout the migration or overwintering season. Citizen scientists record the date, location, Monarch gender, and unique tag number for each fall-migrating monarch that they tag and then submit these data to be used in research. The tags and tagging process do not harm the butterflies, and the data collected have the potential to answer many important questions about monarch biology and conservation.”

Tagging helps answer questions about the origins of Monarchs that reach Mexico, the timing and pace of the migration, mortality during the migration, and changes in geographic distribution. For example, by tagging Monarchs and collecting data, we have learned that these butterflies can travel at least 170 miles in a single day and that they have traveled as far as 3,000 miles. In fact, tagging led to the discovery of the monarch’s winter home in Mexico. (Read more of this fascinating story here.)

Monarchs can travel between 50-100 miles a day; it can take up to two months to complete their journey. The farthest ranging Monarch butterfly recorded traveled 265 miles in one day. https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/Monarch_Butterfly/migration/index.shtml#

Monarch Watch, the Southwest Monarch Study, and Monarch Alert all have monarch tagging programs and are always looking for more citizen scientists; find the program that’s best for you and get involved!

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