Plant Milkweed!

This time of year I often get asked if it is too late to plant milkweed. As far as I am concerned, it is never too late to plant milkweed. According to Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants, germination of native milkweed can be achieved all the way into July.

Not all native milkweeds need pretreatment such as cold stratification before planting. Aquatic Milkweed (Asclepias perennis), Narrowleaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), and Wooly-Pod (Asclepias eriocarpa) can be planted directly into a pot or into the ground.

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I have been told that Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) also do not need to be cold stratified. I have successfully geminated the latter two by using the “Jarmination” method I learned from Brad Grimm at Grow Milkweed Plants.

I was able to germinate these Antelope Horn milkweed seeds without cold stratification in only six days using the Jarmination Method. Click here to learn more

There are also non-native milkweeds that do not need to be cold stratified including Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), Balloon Milkweed (Gomphocarpus physocarpus), Swan Milkweed (Gomphocarpus fruticosus), Giant Crown Flower (Calotropis gigantea), and Procera Milkweed (Calotropis procera). These milkweeds are perennials in USDA Zones 9-11 and annuals in colder zones unless protected from frost and freeze.

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Milkweed is not only the only plant that sustains monarch caterpillars, but the flowers provide wonderful nectar for many different species of butterflies as well as all kinds of pollinators including bees, moths, and hummingbirds.

So don’t wait, plant milkweed!

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Symbolism of the Passion Flower

The Passion Flower (Genus: Passiflora) is indigenous to the Americas. It is unique among the hundreds of old Christian flower symbols in that there is specific historical documentation of the time and place of its origin – the symbolism having been first perceived by the Mexican Augustinian friar, Emmanuel de Villegas, who reported it, with sketches, in Europe in 1610. The Passion Flower was known in Spanish as “La Flor de las Cinco Llagas” or the ‘The Flower With The Five Wounds.’ ‘Passionis’ refers to (Christ’s) suffering.

Haiku ~ “Passion Flower” by Mary Havran.

The Corona Filaments

The filaments grow in a ring right above the petals and sepals on the passionflower. These filaments are said to represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore before his crucifixion. The word “corona” is actually defined as being like a crown, or in the shape of a crown.

If you enjoy butterflies in your garden, then you definitely need passion vine.  Not only are the blossoms a rich nectar source for adult butterflies, the leaves are an important food source for some of our most beautiful butterfly caterpillars, including the Gulf Fritillary and the Zebra Longwing.Photo by Suzanne Tilton.


At the top of the flower, above the petals, sepals, and corona filaments, there are three stigmas.  The stigma is the part of the flower that receives pollen and initiates fertilization. The three stigmas on the passionflower are said to represent the three nails that held Jesus to the cross.

The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) not only feeds on the fragrant blooms of the Caerulea Blue Passion Flower (Passiflora caerulea) , but will also lay its eggs on the leaves of the vine. Click here or on the image to purchase seeds.

Petals and Sepals

The ten “petals” are said to represent the ten apostles who were faithful to Jesus throughout the crucifixion.

Cloudless Sulphur butterflies (Phoebis sennae) line up to sip the sweet nectar from the Passion Flower. Photo by Heidi Avilés Nieves.


The passion flower has five anthers that can be found right below the three stigmas. The anthers are the parts of the flower where pollen is produced. The five anthers are said to symbolize five wounds that Jesus suffered when he was crucified.

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia) nectaring on Passiflora incarnata, also known as Maypop. The Zebra Longwing also uses the plant as a host plant for its caterpillars. Photo by Eillen Arevir.


The fruit represents our world that Jesus saved when he sacrificed himself. The fruit is generally a round shape, which is why it is referred to as the earth in this reference.

The fruit of Yellow Passion Fruit (Passiflora Edulis) is edible once the fruit ripens. Click here or on the image to purchase seeds.

Such symbols gave a specific focus of Christian faith to the religious sense of nature, and also provided a visual means of teaching the Gospel story in an era where there were no printed catechisms.

Passiflora is a beautiful vining plant that is a climbing herbaceous perennial, producing alluring flowers that will tantalize you with their scent.


The Woman Who Drew Butterflies

Maria Sibylla Merian ((1647–1717) ) was a pioneering entomologist and naturalist who was the first to document the metamorphosis of the butterfly. Maria was trained as an artist under her stepfather in Nuremberg. Fascinated by butterflies and moths from an early age, she studied the insect life cycle through the animals she found in local fields and gardens, recording her discoveries in meticulous watercolors and prints. She had started to collect insects as an adolescent. At age 13, she raised silkworms.

Portrait of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), 1679. Found in the Collection of Art Museum Basel. Artist Marrel, Jacob (1614-1681). (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

After more than fifteen years of marriage to a fellow artist and the birth of two daughters, Merian left her husband. She began to support herself by selling watercolors of insects, fruit, and flowers, eventually establishing an art business in Amsterdam with her daughters, Johanna Helen and Dorothea Maria.

Maria documented moths and butterflies in various stages of metamorphosis, describing in great detail the colors, forms, and timing of each stage. Through her studies, research, and paintings, and by taking a more ecological approach to the study, Maria was able to demonstrate that caterpillars went through a metamorphosis, and did not reproduce via spontaneous generation from decaying matter, as was the common thought of the day. In 1679, Merian published the first volume of a two-volume series on caterpillars; the second volume followed in 1683. Each volume contained 50 plates that she engraved and etched. Merian documented evidence on the process of metamorphosis and the plant hosts of 186 European insect species. Along with the illustrations Merian included descriptions of their life cycles.

Title page of The Caterpillars’ Marvelous Transformation and Strange Floral Food, first volume, published 1679.

Growing tired of the limited specimens available to her in Amsterdam, Maria sold everything she had in 1699 and, with her youngest daughter in tow, set sail for the Dutch colony of Suriname in South America. The weather was hot and humid, and although the jungles were teeming with live specimens for her to study, it was a dangerous place to be. However, with her keen observation skills, Maria discovered much about the insects, climate, plants, and animals of the area. She also observed the Dutch treatment of slaves, which provided the world with an in-depth historical account of daily life in Suriname at the time. Two years into her research there, Maria became sick with malaria and that, coupled with the hot climate, caused her to return to Amsterdam. Once back there, she published her influential work on her findings as Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium.

Merian’s new approach to scientific illustration is demonstrated in this watercolour of the life cycle of the Achilles Morpho Butterfly (Morpho achilles). Unlike her predecessors, who had arranged the different life stages in a row, Merian produced an elegant naturalistic composition which shows the caterpillar, green chrysalis, and adult butterfly with wings both open and closed.

Maria revolutionized the field of entomology with her detailed and beautiful illustrations, and helped to put the field of entomology on a more established foundation. Because her works were published in German and not Latin, this allowed larger numbers of ordinary people to more easily access her research. Her books were so popular that there were 19 editions published between 1665 and 1771. The Russian Tsar Peter I, who admired Maria, hung a portrait of her in his study, while Johann Wolfgang von Goethe marveled at her ability to simultaneously depict both science and art in her paintings. Her picture once adorned the 500 Deutschmark note, as well as finding its way onto many German stamps. Many schools have been named after Maria, as well as a modern research vessel that was launched in Germany. Additionally, six plants, two beetles, and nine butterflies have been named in her honor. (

Deutsche Bundesbank, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I first learned about Maria Sibylla Merian in a wonderfully illustrated and well-written book called The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman. A delightful book written for children ages 10-14, I found it an interesting read as an adult and began find out more about this fascinating and courageous woman.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman. • Click Here or on the book cover for details.

There are many resources on the Internet where you can learn more details about Maria Sibylla Merian as well as see many of her illustrations. One of the best is located at Royal Collection Trust where you can explore her works at the Royal Collection located in Buckingham Palace.

There are many books written for both older and younger children. Here are my two favorites:

Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer by Sarah Pomeroy and Jeyaraney Kathirithamby. • Click Here or on the book cover for details.

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Julie Paschkis. • Click Here or on the book cover for details.

And just for fun Maria Merian’s Butterflies Coloring Book: Drawings from the Royal Collection.

This beautiful coloring book features over 40 stunning butterfly illustrations of Marian Merian, produced in association with the Royal Collection Trust. • Click Here or on the book cover for details.

Golden Chrysalis

The chrysalises of some butterflies are like miniature golden ornaments. The Orange-spotted Tiger Clearwing (Mechanitis polymnia) and Common Crow (Euploea core) are two types of butterflies that create these beautiful gold chrysalises. In fact, the word ¨chrysalis” is derived from the Greek word ¨chrysos¨ meaning ¨gold.¨

Orange-spotted Tiger Clearwing is found in Central and South America in rainforests and cloud forests. The Common Crow is a common butterfly found in South Asia to Australia.

These shiny, metallic-looking chrysalises are thought to help protect the growing butterfly by fooling potential predators. The shiny chrysalises might look like water droplets on leaves. Or, they just might be so shiny that they reflect their surrounding areas like a mirror. Many reflective organisms like that end up being more camouflaged in their natural habitats because the reflections reflect their surroundings, e.g. chrysalis sitting in a green forest surrounded by green leaves ends up looking green.

This gold bejeweled Monarch (Danaus plexippus) chrysalis is camouflaged underneath a leaf of Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepius curassavica).

For hungry animals that get too close, the mirror effect might also be enough scare them off. Birds, lizards and other visual hunters like jumping spiders scour native plants for prey, and reflected movement (or the sudden appearance of their own reflected form) would likely initiate a bail sequence.

The chrysalis of the Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) is studded with golden spikes.

These shiny structures, even though they look like they are made of metal are actually made of chitin, the same substance that gives some insects like beetles their shiny look. Read more here:

Many insects, particularly Scarab and Jewel Beetles, have vivid, metallic green, blue or gold colouration. This effect doesn’t come from pigments, but is an example of ‘structural colouration’. Pheromone by Christopher Marley

Three Ways to Sow Native Milkweed Seeds

Most native milkweed seeds require cold stratification in order to germinate and grow into healthy plants. What does that mean?

Cold Stratification is a cold, moist period that breaks seed dormancy. In nature, this process occurs in winter, keeping seeds from germinating until conditions are more ideal in the spring. Milkweed and other perennials (plants that live for several years) are more likely to require cold stratification. Cold stratification is very important for the germination and growth of native milkweeds.

Native milkweed seed pods, such as this of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) typically pop open in the fall allowing the wind to spread the seeds.

Without prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, your milkweed seed is unlikely to sprout. In the wild, seed dormancy is usually overcome by the seed spending time in the ground through a winter period and having its hard seed coat softened by frost and weathering action. By doing so the seed is undergoing a natural form of “cold stratification”.

Can I just scatter milkweed seeds? You can. That’s how nature does it. But, if you want the plants in a certain place or better odds of germination, they will need your help.

Fall Sowing

If you live where it freezes in the winter, late fall is a good time for direct sowing milkweed seeds outdoors. The benefit is that nature provides the winter conditions needed to stratify the seeds and expose them to cold and moist conditions. The alternating freeze and thaw of winter helps break down the seed coat and starts the growing process. Once the sun comes out and the ground is warm in the spring, the seeds will germinate on their own.

Click here to read more about sowing seeds in the fall:

Winter Sowing

Winter sowing is another method that allows Mother Nature to cold stratify milkweed seeds. Winter sowing is the process where seeds are sowed outdoors in the winter, typically in milk jug, or any other plastic container with a lid. The plastic containers act like a mini greenhouse and prevent the seeds from drying out and protect the seeds from hungry critters. Winter sowing works best in USDA Zones 4-8.

Illustrated by Martha Atkins of Skycrest Studios. Used with permission.

Click here to read more about winter sowing milkweed seeds:

Spring Sowing

If you want to wait until spring to plant your seeds you will need to be sure that you cold stratify your seeds inside the refrigerator for at least 45 days. The simplest is to put seeds in moist soil or peat and store in an old refrigerator. If you don’t want soil in your refrigerator, you can also layer seeds between moist paper towels in a plastic container or Ziploc bag in your crisper, keeping them cold for a minimum of three weeks and up to three months.

Photo provided by BASF Living Acres. Click here to watch a how to video:

You can get a head start and plant the seeds indoors in containers after they have been cold stratified in the refrigerator. Milkweed seeds can be direct sown in spring, but transplants have better success. Fill pots or trays with light, well-drained soil. I strongly suggest using Pro Seed Starting Mix Contains that contains MYCOACTIVE, a proprietary formula to stimulate vigorous growth. Add the seeds and press down onto the soil. You do not need to cover the seeds but if you do, do so with just an eighth of an inch of soil. Keep soil moist and pots in a sunny, warm spot or under grow lights until the seeds germinate.

Pro Seed Starting Mix Contains MYCOACTIVE to stimulate vigorous growth and greater resistance. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

The seeds will take approximately 10 days to germinate. Once there are four true leaves on the seedlings (the seedlings will be approximately three inches tall), the plants can be transplanted into your garden once the danger of frost has passed.

Newly sprouted Zizotes milkweed (Asclepias oenotheroides).

Most milkweed species do best in full sunlight, so choose an open area with lots of sun so clear a patch in a sunny spot, giving each plant plenty of room to spread its roots. Water frequently until your plants are established.

Good luck with your milkweed seeds and let us know how it goes!

Find these and other native milkweed seeds here: