On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…six types of milkweed!
Milkweed, as most of us probably know by now, is the only thing that monarch butterfly caterpillars will eat. So if you want to help monarchs in their long, perilous migration (and given how badly their numbers are declining, many of us do) you’ve got to plant milkweed.
In my garden, I have tried six different species of Aesclepias. Most of them have failed miserably. Some of them live long enough to get devoured by milkweed beetles. I keep trying, because if you’re not up for Sisyphean tasks, you’re probably not a gardener.
A. tuberosa — “butterfly weed.” Wretched finicky plant. Monarchs actually prefer other milkweeds and aren’t that fond of it, it likes sandy soil and hates having its roots poked, and me trying to grow it is plant abuse. I think I still have one clawing its way out of a hillside.
A. curassivica — “tropical milkweed.” I grow this one as an annual. It does great! Someday a monarch will find it before the milkweed beetles do.
A. exaltata — “poke milkweed.” This one will take part shade, and is absolutely the perfect milkweed for my area. I planted a seed packet. None of them came up. It’s been two years. No one sells transplants. I am sad.
A. purpurascens — “purple milkweed.” I was somewhat daunted by the bit where it died instantly.
A. incarnata — “swamp milkweed.” This plant is my great failure, even more so than the others. Most people will agree that many milkweeds are finicky. Swamp milkweed, however, grows madly. It spreads. People complain about its enthusiasm. I have planted three different plants in three different spots. One still produces one dogged stem, once a year. The others have vanished to wherever sad milkweeds go. To hear people talk, the only way I am accomplishing this is by sowing the fields with salt and watering it with bleach.
A. verticillata — “whorled milkweed.” My one great success! It grows! It flowers! It takes miserable clay! It’s not fast, but boy, it’s hardy! I want to hug this one when it comes back each year. Someday, we may even get a monarch caterpillar!
Until that day, I console myself with the fact that we get many caterpillars every year of other varieties, and that monarchs frequents stop to refuel on nectar, if not to raise a family. Still, I hold out hope.