Category Archives: Milkweed

Swamp Milkweed Importance

It’s April 21st and in St. Louis we have just been visited by our first Monarch butterfly. This was a female looking for milkweed to lay eggs on.

What is interesting to note is that just six days ago, we had frost yet the cooler temperatures have not hurt the monarchs or the milkweed.

Unless you have started milkweed from seed, most people won’t have any milkweed to provide the visiting monarchs.

Swamp Milkweed is one of my favorites in spring as it has a lovely form and beautiful flowers.

The problem we have is that it only lasts three or so years before it dies off. The problem is probably the hot dry summers we have, which is not conducive to any plant with swamp in it’s name.

To avoid having to buy new plants every year, make sure you collect the seeds when they ripen on the stem, put them in a paper bag and then plant them in late fall where you want them to grow. Next year you will be rewarded with lots of new plants free of any cost. You can also buy seeds online and plant them outside in the fall.

Another trick I have learned is that your can dig up plants early in the spring and divide them. This way you may end up with six plants instead of one.

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Monarch Plants Needed

Where#Notes
Tom back0Try planting directly into soil May 1st. – 120
Tom front70
Kennerly School20Plus 200 seeds for kids
Concord Elem.20
Jean’s school20
Whitecliff40
Misc40
Total210
Note – as of March 15 I have 280 plants – 80% germination.

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Free Milkweed Seeds

monarch-800I have some milkweed seeds that I’d be glad to share. The seeds are Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica. Plant the seed so it is slightly covered and keep warm and moist to start. If you start these inside, you can get a a head start on spring. Plant when all danger of frost is gone – usually around May 1st in St. Louis Missouri.

Another option is to plant these in the soil and let them come up naturally.
Send a SASE – Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope to:

Free Milkweed Seeds
9016 Robyn Rd
St. Louis, MO 63126

The best way to start these seeds is with bottom heat. 

80-degrees-covered

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

80 degrees and seeds slightly covered seems to be the best. I did put the plastic top on this to keep in the heat and moisture.

 

 

 

Here’s the procedure I use.

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113,000 Seeds – $17.59

monarchs-milkweed
asclepias-113000I just found a deal on milkweed seeds that I thought I’d share. I just bought 113,000 asclepias curassavica seeds for just $17.59.

I got them from MyDirtyGardener.com. The link will take you to this offer.

asclepias-oregon-800Note – the main Monarch migration is going through St. Louis right now, so get outside and enjoy this phenomenon.

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Saving Swamp Milkweed

What I’ve found with Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, in St. Louis MO is that it only lives for about three years, sometimes only two years in a typical home garden setting. While it prefers a wet-rain garden setting, all of my beds are raised for drainage and not ideal for this species.

One swamp milkweed that did spectacular last year, this year it now looks poorly and possibly dying. From my past experience I know that this plant will probably not make it next year. Here are a couple of pictures of the milkweed.

swamp-milkweed-dying-01

 

swamp-milkweed-dying-02What I’ve had success with in the past is cutting in back to six inches, digging up the root ball and separating it into individual plants. I will then keep them in pots for a month or two and make sure they are always moist. I then will plant it back in the garden.

swamp-milkweed-dying-03

swamp-milkweed-dying-04

swamp-milkweed-dying-05

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Milkweed Sources

milkweed-swamp

Finding milkweed for the Monarchs can be a daunting task if you limit yourself to your local big-box stores.

Monarch Watch has put together a list of over 250 vendors. You can download the list at this link.
http://monarchwatch.org/milkweed/market/milkweed-vendors.pdf

St. Louis Local Suppliers

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Asclepias curassavica – Tropical Milkweed

Monarch-asclepias

This particular milkweed has been the focal point of some recent controversy, so I thought I would put together as much research as I could find on this Monarch favorite.

Definition – Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) is a protozoan parasite that infects Monarch and Queen butterflies.
 http://monarchparasites.uga.edu/whatisOE/

Karen Oberhauser indicates that in Southern and Costal States + California – that OE can be a problem as the plants don’t die and OE can build up. Some sites advise to cut it down to the ground at the end of the season if you are in one of the warmer climates.

Thanks to Andy S. with this article from SciencMag.org. It again talks about the Southern State problem with OE and what can be done.

Here’s a recent TedTalk which seems to indicate that Curassaivica is good for Monarchs and is in fact medicinal against OE.

I emailed Chip Taylor, a well known expert in this field, about this video and this is his response.

“I haven’t had time to view the TED but here is my take from what I know about the issues.
There is a twist to the story – or interpretation. Monarchs surviving on A.c. having acquired an infestation of spores – are able to mate and pass on the spores to offspring since spores would be transferred to the new eggs or surrounding leaves. Monarchs receiving similar doses of O.e. spores but which have fed on other milkweeds would likely die – ending transmission to the next generation.
If you follow this, O.e. is a self-limiting disease (but you will never hear the researchers talking about it in these terms). Mortality/viability is dose related. Too much and you are dead, a little bit and you live to carry to spores to the next gen. A.c. allows more to survive and hence favors spore transmission.
That’s an issue in the south where A.c. overwinters (almost exclusively in gardens so the scale of the problem is quite limited) where O.e. can build up on leaves. It is less likely to be an issue in the north. Cutting back A.c. in the south at least twice a yr is recommended. It wouldn’t hurt to do that in the north if expecting to produce more than one gen on A.c.”
Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg, the President of NABA, North American Butterfly Association, wrote an article in the Winter 2014 issue of American Butterflies. Here’s the PDF. He says, “There is little evidence to support the idea that planting Tropical Milkweed will weaken Monarch populations and NO evidence to support the idea that Tropical Milkweeds are trapping Monarchs and stopping them from migrating to Mexico.

Here is a AskNature Article with the same information as the video.

Cardenolides per Species – interesting that Curassaivica has a very high percentage.

  • Asclepias curassavica – 1055
  • Asclepias syriaca – 50
  • Asclepias incarnata – 14
  • Asclepias tuberosa – 3
  • Asclepias verticillata – 1

San Antonio note – I got this email from a woman who lives in San Antonio. She said, “Monarchs are staying at the A. currasavica milkweed patch on the San Antonio Riverwalk all winter.” If you also look at the map below, you will see a lot of Monarchs do seem to stay in the southern states over the winter. Curassavica does seem to be stopping these Monarchs from migrating.

 monarchs-jan-feb-2015

My summation –  it always makes sense to be aware of the OE problem and if in the South or California to take measures to limit use of Asclepias curassavica or at least cut it back a couple times a year. While only 8% of migrating Monarchs have OE, 85 % of the non-migrating Florida population have it. 

In Missouri – since tropical milkweed dies with the frost, spore transmission is not a problem.  What I have observed over the last 18 years is that even though I have a large tropical milkweed patch in October, as soon as we get a cool spell and the winds are moving in a southerly direction, the Monarchs take off on their migration.

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