Milkweed Flats

Milkweed flats.

No, it’s not a charming name for some geographical feature out here in the Wild West. Instead, it’s a possible remedy, though by no means a complete solution, for the imperiled  migrating North American Monarch butterfly. is an education, conservation and research organization benefitting the Monarch butterfly.  One of their newer projects is a “milkweed market” where they’re supplying flats of native milkweed plugs, specific to region, for sale to interested gardeners and citizen scientists.

The Monarch requires the milkweed, Asclepias, species for its survival.  The females lay their eggs on the milkweed plant, the larvae eat at that plant (and that plant ONLY).  The larvae form into the chrysalides, hatch into adults, and the cycle continues with the next breeding generation.  Adult Monarchs can feed from a variety of nectar sources, though they typically prefer native plants and wildflowers.  The larvae?  Those green/black/yellow cats only have jaws for milkweed.  All this eating, morphing, flying, and breeding occurs during the remarkable 2000-3000 mile yearly migration: winter in Mexico, flying through Texas in spring, then upwards through the mid-West to Canada in the summer, back again through Texas in autumn, finally to their mountain habitat in Mexico for winter.

The availability of native milkweed is in severe decline because of habitat destruction throughout the United States and Mexico, the use of Monsanto produced Roundup for the Roundup-resistant genetically modified seeds in the mid-West, (which has destroyed huge areas of not only native milkweed, but other flowering annuals and perennials), ongoing drought in Texas, as well as other changes in weather patterns. With declining milkweed, comes declining Monarch population.  Adding to those difficulties, “milkweed” is not a monolithic plant; its various species are endemic to particular areas and not easily propagated.

If I can beg further patience, I’ll get to the milkweed flats….

The most common milkweed species found in American plant nurseries is the Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica,  and is not native to the continental U.S.  I’ve never read why it’s the most commonly sold, I just assume it’s easiest to propagate and sell because it thrives in a wide range of situations.  Commercial nurseries are in the business to make money, so they’re most likely to sell a plant with a wide distribution, rather than plants that are regional, with more local appeal.  Native milkweed plants are just not readily available at most commercial nurseries. Though I should add that seeds are available for those who have the space and time to germinate and grow their own plants.

Tropical Milkweed, in certain areas of the southern U.S., pose an additional problem for migrating Monarchs (as if they don’t already have enough challenges!).  Most milkweed species die back during winter, re-emerging in spring to coincide with the Monarch migration northward.   Tropical Milkweed doesn’t die back in the South and can harbor disease which spreads to Monarchs when they lay their eggs for the larvae.  Tropical Milkweed is not the problem, per se, but milkweed that doesn’t die back in winter, is–or at least, the preliminary and ongoing research suggests that overwintering milkweed increases the manifestation and spread of OE, short for Ophryocystis elektroscirrha. OE is a protozoan parasite that cripples and kills Monarchs.  The current suggestion is that gardeners prune their Tropical Milkweed for winter, 2 inches above the ground, to limit the possibility of disease spread.  While OE is a problem, further study is required and scientists who study Monarchs concur that widespread herbicide use and habitat destruction play a more significant role in declining populations of these remarkable insects than any problems Tropical Milkweed might cause.

Monarch scientists and enthusiasts encourage planting milkweed specifically native to each eco-region of the U.S.

And that brings us to milkweed flats. is selling flats of 32 native-to-region milkweed plugs.  Each flat sells for $63-$69 (including shipping).  Click here for the milkweed market link for more information on their process of seed collection, ordering information and links to milkweed photos and descriptions.

Because the flats are a bit pricey and milkweed grows best in full sun and I don’t have lots of sun or gardening room for 32 milkweed plants (wish I did…), I’ve joined with two gardening friends in ordering one flat of native-to-where-we-live milkweed.  I still have six Tropical Milkweed specimens that I planted in 2014–it’s a valuable plant and I wouldn’t deny the migrating Monarchs nectar and larval food, but once my native milkweed plugs arrive and are planted, I’ll also have native milkweed in my garden available for their dining and brooding pleasures.

Wouldn’t it be cool if gardeners from the Rio Grande Valley all the way up to the Great Lakes purchased and shared flats of milkweed plugs?  Wouldn’t it be groovy to plant for the Monarchs, a solid path of nectar sources and nurseries, along their whole migration route?

Please support these efforts to help Monarchs.  Checkout the milkweed market of and consider planting native milkweed for Monarchs.  Encourage your local nurseries to supply native milkweed plants. Look at Native American Seed or Wildseed Farm, as additional seed sources.

It’s all about the Monarch and its future.

For more information, click on these links:

Bloom Day, September 2014

September heralds a change from the blisteringly hot to the merely hot in Austin, Texas. This gardener welcomes that subtle, but fundamental change:  the shorter days, the approaching autumn cool and if we’re lucky, some rainy days ahead.  Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this lovely blogging meme celebrating all that flower.

It’s somewhat about the Ruellia this time of year in my gardens.  I grow both a native, Drummond’s Wild PetuniaRuellia drummondiana, like these cuties peeking out through foliage,

…and these that aren’t  quite so shy.

I also grow a well-behaved cultivar, the Katie’s Dwarf Ruellia, Ruellia brittoniana, ‘Katie’s Dwarf’,  blossoming beautifully during the late summer and autumn months.

Additionally, a less mannerly variety, the Chi-Chi Ruellia, Ruellia brittoniana ‘Chi-Chi’, makes its home in my gardens.  Here is it nicely co-mingling with the blooming and berrying PigeonberryRivina humilis,

…and flowering alone.

I love the first two Ruellia species and have a complicated relationship with the third.

The various Salvia in my gardens, like this red Autumn SageSalvia greggii,

…really strut their stuff in the fall. Flowers that appear on and off during our hot summer, the blossoms on these woody, native shrubs will consistently impress both pollinators and gardeners throughout our productive autumn months.

A different salvia, the white Tropical SageSalvia coccinea, was knocked back this past winter with our  late freezes,

…but are lush with snowy, bee-friendly blooms now and will bee that way until there is a killing frost.

Rock RosePavonia lasiopetala, opens its Barbie Doll Pink blooms each morning, remaining open longer as the days get shorter.

Another perennial with pretty-in-pink blossoms, is the Purple Heart, Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple Heart’.

I grew up with Purple Heart rampant in my mother’s garden–I have warm memories of playing near stands of this naturalized ground cover with its dramatic purple foliage and charming blossoms.

Sweet Basil produces tiny flowers for pollinators,

… and the native, wildlife perennial, Lindheimer’s Senna, Senna lindheimeriana, blooms from August into September for the pollinators, then sets seeds for the birds later in fall.


I always forget that I planted these Red Spider Lily bulbs,  Lycoris radiata,


…. until they pop up, overnight it seems.

These are such gorgeous flowers! I don’t know why I can’t remember that the bulbs are in the ground, waiting for the first of the September rains, to grace the gardens with their exotic beauty. The strappy foliage (which emerges after blooming) disappears in the late winter/early spring.  The memory of those exquisite blossoms should stay with me, but I’m always surprised to welcome them again, each September.

Finally, a Monarch butterfly is now visiting my gardens, sipping on his preferred blooms of the Tropical MilkweedAsclepias curassavica.

My heart lifted to see this North American beauty after all I’ve read about the very serious decline in the monarch butterfly population.

Go Monarchs!

Here in Austin we enjoy a second, spectacular blooming season, beginning just about now.  Fall blooms abound and there’s more to come!  For today though, check out blooms from everywhere at May Dreams Gardens.


In my last post, I wrote about  the steep decline in the population of monarch butterflies.  I mentioned that I hadn’t seen any monarchs in my gardens here in Austin so far this September. Yesterday afternoon as I was in the garden planting more fennel and milkweed ahead of our first, bona fide autumn cool front with impending rain–there she was!

Flying fast and high, this lone Monarch flitted onto the Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, which is ready and waiting, just for her–and any other interested Lepidoptera.

Only one Monarch, but she made my heart sing!

I took photos.  Partly because I don’t know if there will soon be a time that there won’t be any monarchs to take photos of and also because I regretted not taking photos last spring when one Monarch visit for a day or two.  I remember thinking at that time: There will be more–it’s that time of year.

With serious threats to the survival of this indigenous North American butterfly species, there is no guarantee that monarchs will visit my gardens in the future.  I sincerely hope that my generation’s children and grandchildren will see monarchs in their gardens.

Wishing you safe travels to Mexico and a good winter there, beautiful one.  And for many, many generations to follow you.