Finally, A Decent Mexican Milkweed Harvest

This rather scruffy looking pile is a lot of hard work.

It’s a bit of a story as well.

You see, I have a bit of a problem with my Mexican Milkweeds.  They’re a little bit of an obsession.

I plant them simply because the Monarch Butterflies like them.

A bit too much.  Quite a lot, actually.  It’s their main food here.

I’m also a short walk from a little pocket park that is devoted to Native South Florida Plants, M.E. DePalma Park.  There are a lot of flowers planted there that belong there.  You know it’s native because you are told – most of the flowers are not at all showy like you’re used to seeing at the garden center.  Walking past that park, you actually can HEAR the difference since all the local insects and animals are happily living in what they’ve adapted to – native species.  In fact, the Mexican Milkweed flowers are one of the larger ones there by virtue of them being a cluster of flowers.

They’re also very tasty to Monarch Butterflies.  We have quite a few of them flying by the house as a result.

The butterflies know they are there.  I’m not certain how, but if your main food plant is important to you you will learn how to pick them out.

And that would be the crux of the matter.  I normally can’t keep them growing here.

I have since found that when the Monarchs lay their eggs there, they will eat from the nectar of the flowers,

leave and the caterpillars will com out a few days later.  Those caterpillars will eat the plant to sticks.

You can propagate those sticks if you take a finger length cutting with one or two leaf buds on them, and stick them into moist soil.

This time though, I was able to get a couple plants to grow to maturity.  The Monarchs did not find them.

It seems that the trick is that if your Milkweed is growing in a sheltered area, the butterflies can’t really find them.

As a result of all that dancing around … I finally have seeds enough for myself, the people who have been supplying me, some to return to the park, and a few to hand out to friends.

The seeds grow quickly and flower fast, but only if they are not seen.  The plants don’t have any evil smell to them so they would grow indoors in a bright window, but you can’t grow indoor plants in South Florida.  Ants would find them and all the sudden you have a colony living in your living room.

Nope.  No indoor plants here.

So my seeds?  They’re happily drying out in my living room.  I’ll be taking a pod with me on one of my many walks.  I can go back to being Johnny Milkweed Seed.  I may even get some more since there are a few pods that have yet to ripen.

But … we won’t tell the Monarchs that, will we?

Friendly Random Butterfly

You get used to this sort of thing.

When I had the flu, like most of the Western World, I sat in my chair and looked out the window.  There wasn’t much more that I could have done since I truly didn’t have the energy, moan, coughing fit, curse, swear, moan again when will this be over.

Yeah it was that bad.  Literally.  I was listening to a podcast from Armin van Buuren and they were talking about the “Flu Making Its Way Through Holland.” at the same time I was coughing up a lung.

Freaky.

I watched the sun come up.  I watched the sun set.  I watched the same people walk down my block at the same time of day.  Watched the dog walkers including the guy who carries the Chihuahua who looks like its dead since it has melted over his arm.

Really, dude, the dog would be happier walking on the ground, trust me.

But it seems the wildlife here was the bright shining star in the nighttime that the flu induced.

We have ducks that visit.  My neighbor calls the ones that look inside the front door that is more than a meter, 6’6″ of security glass, Peepers.  There is a triple of ducks that visit every day.  The largest has a droopy right wing, and two smaller ones.  I figure it is a family.   Just don’t colonize under my Jeep, you’re leaving a smelly mess.

I eventually convinced them to relocate to my neighbor’s island of flowers.  The constant hosing down of the carport was a bit much.

I was noticing that the butterflies here are thick on the wing.  I would watch as my Monarchs would glide past looking for the Mexican Milkweed I have in the backyard for them to eat.

There’s a black and yellow striped Zebra Longwing that flies past occasionally.  That pattern will strobe as it flies past.

The point is we’ve been lucky.  Due to the efforts of the neighbor and the various parks in town like M.E. DePalma Park, we’re seeing more varieties of butterflies.

I have been out in the yard puttering around more than once while cleaning out my irrigation lines and had to be told to stand still as there were butterflies on my back.  Plural, as in more than one.

In the case of the orange one, I have never seen those before.  It wanted to see me.  I was over by the pool and the bougainvillea looking around aimlessly, and this little beauty landed quite at my feet.  I moved away, it got up and followed me.  For a good ten minutes.

Ten minutes is a long time to be On Guard, I suppose, but I was entertaining this little creature in the whole time.

I moved to the trash can spilling water as I carried the basket from the pool skimmer, and it followed.  I guess nobody wants to drink pool water except my dog.

I decided that the best course was to enjoy the encounter and go about my business.  Eventually it did fly away off to find more flowery fields.  All a part of being in the great outdoors.

Butterflies and Mango Trees

Walking out to the backyard, nature will present itself.  Always take a camera.

Mind you, opportunities to take a picture of nature in South Florida are common.

I didn’t expect just how common it was when I made the decision to pitch it all in Philly, and fly to Florida for a new home.

Having had Black Racer Snakes in my Florida Room, more lizards than I can count on any given wall both inside and outside of the house, and spiders that are larger than a small car in the eaves, I have grown both amused and expectant of the creatures.

After all, I ran a Frog Hotel for quite a few years until the Impact Windows got put in.  The frogs left and I am disappointed that they haven’t come back.

This particular afternoon, I was being dive bombed.

Oh sure, there were Monarchs everywhere as usual.  After all there were two caterpillars turning one plant into sticks at the same time.

This was something different.  This Orange and Black creature was not a Monarch.  It was a different kind of Florida Butterfly.  It was insistent that I follow it.  After all, it was orbiting my head like stars after a cartoon character gets hit in the head by an anvil.

No, I mean literally orbiting my head.  Round and round as I walked past the spa.

I got about half way down the yard and it left me.  The silly creature fluttered over to my Mango tree and parked itself there.

The Mango was a tree that was imprisoned in too small a pot for years until I finally freed it by chopping the pot away from its roots.  On a very hot day, I dug a hole in the yard and stuck it into the ground.  They say it is a Condo Mango and won’t get more than 10 to 15 feet tall or so, so I’m hoping.

The Mango immediately showed its appreciation by dropping almost every old leaf and then following with a complete coat of deep green leaves.  It’s a very happy plant that went green almost in a day.

Overnight.

The butterfly decided it liked it too.  It was there, on a Mango leaf and I swear it turned its head to watch me.  Reaching into my pocket, I was able to get exactly one picture out of the encounter.  Then the little orange and black creature fluttered away.  Over the house and into the beyond to live out its fluttery existence.

“One is all you get” it seemed to say.

Wildlife encounters are best when the wildlife insists on a selfie before it goes.

Monarchs in the Ruellia Rescue Pot

The easiest plant I have found to propagate is the Ruellia.

Mexican Petunia.

They are also considered invasive weeds by some. 

One of those things I guess, the butterflies and bees love the flowers, but the plants get out of control and will grow just about anywhere in the South.  Zone 8 to 11 if you’re taking notes.

I guess I shouldn’t propagate them, but since my entire property line on the East side is covered with them, they aren’t going anywhere.  I get an almost 100 percent propagation rate from cuttings stuck in damp soil, and they make for a rather nice display in a pot.

Like I said, the butterflies like them and I’m all about making the butterflies happy.

I had this pot, one of my Rescue Pots where I was planting all sorts of stuff to see if it takes.   When I got a care package of some Mexican Milkweeds, I tossed the seeds into this pot and waited.

Nothing.  Nothing took.  That was back in March. 

Shrugging, since I needed to trim back the Mexican Petunia a couple of lawn mowings ago, I simply saved the cuttings and stuck them into the soil of that pot, densely.  Now the pot has this giant tuft of purple flowers and green leaves.

In the middle of that pot there was one odd ball Mexican Milkweed.  I could tell it was that because the leaves were not as dark as the Ruellia.  The leaves are almost identical, but it looked faded.

With my puttering in the garden each day, I thought it odd that my Milkweed had grown back healthy after being eaten back to sticks by all the Monarch Butterflies we have here.

Then it happened.

Momma Butterfly found my lone plant in the strawberry pot.  She missed the one in the Ruellia.

I shortly had three little baby Monarch caterpillars munching my plant to sticks.  “Oh Well, That Is What It’s There For!” I said, promising myself to watch after my tiger striped pets.

A couple days later, they grew so big that they ate themselves low on food.  One of the caterpillars got hungry enough to try to escape the strawberry pot.  I saw it on the outside of the pot looking lost.  It immediately climbed onto an offered Sea Grape leaf that I picked up from the ground.

You guessed it, it went into the pot with the Ruellia.

So now I have caterpillar number 3 getting fat and happy with the Ruellia, which it seems to have a taste for too, as well as the other two back on the lone Mexican Milkweed that now is almost leafless.  

Good luck creatures, long may you fly!

Monarch Caterpillars In The Yard

Thank you Constance.

Thank you Kathie.

I’ve got seeds.
I will be getting more.

These little creatures are eating themselves out of house and home.  They’re also one of the reasons I enjoy photography.

Going through the pictures, waiting for something to say it’s time to do something with it, I spotted this one.  It’s a shame to shrink it down, so I left it as large as I did.  The original picture, big as it is by today’s standards, made it into my backgrounds folder on the machines.

If you take a lot of pictures, you are bound to get something that you like once in a while.

That would be the photography theory of “A Stopped Clock is Right Twice A Day”.

Constance stopped by the other night.  I had a pleasant little visit standing in the front yard talking about politics, current events, and of course, butterflies.

She gave me a little plastic baggie with about three seed pods of mixed yellow and red Mexican Milkweed.  I doubt I’ll ever see a flower out of them because there are so many Monarch Butterflies in this little part of the neighborhood, but it doesn’t matter.  I’m planting them for the Monarchs.

I will also be carrying the bag with me when I go on my walks.  Johnny Milkweed-seed at your service!   I know of one semi-wet spot that will be getting a few.  The trick is that this area is so overbuilt, typical for Florida, that it will be difficult to find a spot to drop the seeds so that the cycle of butterfly can continue.

In front of my house, under the bathroom window, on the wall there is a rust stain.  The irrigation hits that spot twice a week.  I’ll be grabbing four roof tiles and making a little square.  That will reserve the spot for my butterflies.  I’m a bit reckless with the weed-eater so I’ll need to know where they’re planted.

They should do well there as well as replenishing the pots in the backyard.

I’m thinking in the utility easement since that is fairly wild and “untamed”.  That should give my friends a little boost.

Cashew, Coleus, and Caterpillar by the Pool

They tell me that the wet season is ending but with El Nino firmly in effect, that may be overruled for a bit.

As a result, bright sunny days are a little more scarce than might be needed. 

When they happen, you escape outside, pull weeds, and get chores done that have been waiting for the rains to stop.  On the other hand, it’s better to do all that when it there is a grey sky than when the sun is beating down on you.

Either way, I still end up pulling great long roots of Virginia Creeper from one side of the yard to the other.  Blasted things are invasive and stealthy.  You start pulling at one side of the property and by the time you’re done you have a coil of 50 feet worth of brown root that looks like an extension cord with a leaf here and there that taunts you.

Why?  Because there’s a snapped end that tells you that the root merely broke off and it will continue growing where you left it.

Virginia Creeper is the Two Year Old of the Garden.  It’s there telling you “NO!” when you’re saying “GO AWAY!”.

But it isn’t all sweat and toil out there.  I have my chain of pots.  They started out as a place to put trophy plants that I wanted because I’m in the tropics-adjacent South Florida and everyone here should have a proper citrus tree at one point or another.

I’m also not that good at keeping them alive.  The original crop of citrus trees died back, but I still have my banana and my mango trees.

When the lemons died off, but the pots and the drip-feed irrigation remained. 

Ever practical, I started using them as “starter pots”.  Where I will put these weeds I can’t say, but they are there soldiering on! 

Instead of that Meyer Lemon that I was making Lemon curd from, I now have a weird collection of plants.  I specifically went out that morning to tend to the weirdness.  The first pot that I started planting weird in was that sad lemon pot.  Of course I needed somewhere to put my Mexican Milkweed so it went in there.

That didn’t work.  The Monarchs use it as a salad and a way station for a quick stop before floating on their way.  “Oh well, that’s why it was there!” 

But the pot looked bare by itself with just a stick of eaten Milkweed, so I added some other things.  My Cashew tree.  The neighbor gave me a fruit, that I ate, and I dropped the seed in that same pot.  The tree needs to be moved since it got knee high and stopped.  On the wind there must have been a stray coleus seed because it too decided to land in that pot.

I now have a small ecosystem.  When the caterpillars allow, there are Mexican Milkweeds, but only until the leaves get out.  They never get as far as flowering, and forget about harvesting seeds, because one doesn’t share with insects, even beautiful ones.  You’ll have sticks, and you’ll like it.

I do like it because I do like the Monarchs.

The Cashew tree and the Coleus will end up elsewhere when I start over.

But walking around looking at this decidedly unartistic collection of plants, I noticed a thread.

Getting closer, I noticed that the thread was a tiny day or two old Monarch caterpillar already eating the leaves that were trying to grow on on what passes for the plant. 

Silly creatures you’re eating yourselves out of house and home!

Of course the circle of life and all that went through my mind as I watched a female Monarch float in, land, and promptly lay an egg on that same plant.

Anyone want to bet whether the egg will hatch or it will be eaten in a day or three by that hungry caterpillar?

Someone, anyone, Beuhler?

The things you see out by the garden when you’re out procrastinating, er, pulling weeds.

The Monarch of the Plant Pot

Wandering around town at dawn, I noticed that there was something missing.

Not people, oddly enough we dog walkers have a habit of getting out early, wandering late, and basically slinking around town at strange hours.

I’ve walked Rack at 4AM more than once.

The nature park nearby, M.E. DePalma park, was missing them.

My backyard was picked fairly clean.

Some of the spots where I was “guerilla” planting them hadn’t taken either, or where they were they were eaten down to sticks.

You guessed it, my Mexican Milkweed is mostly absent. 

I have a reputation of scattering Milkweed Seeds far and near, and when I find the seeds, that is exactly what I do.  I remember these starbursts of silk floating on the breezes of my own childhood New Jersey Prairie that would land somewhere unseen from time to time.  Here, they don’t get a chance to get that far.  The insects that I plant them for are much too hungry for them and are eating them down to nubs and sticks.

It’s a cause and effect.  Give a Monarch a home and it will eat the home.  If there is no home, no Monarchs. That is why we plant the things anyway, for the Monarchs.

So whenever I find a seed pod on one of my plants, I watch over it.  If it survives to ripen, I snatch it and put it in a plastic bag or immediately scatter them.

I’m on a cleaning binge and I found one of those bags hidden in my kitchen from a while ago.  It had fallen behind the coffee maker on the counter, forgotten.

Walking out to the row of pots on the drip irrigation line that morning to plant the newly found seeds in the land, there was the culprit.  It could have been called the guest, just as easily.  A Monarch caterpillar climbing up the branch of the lone milkweed that had survived looking for a meal. 

Mmm Tasty, Tasty Milkweed.

I vowed to watch over that creature and see where it went but I wasn’t that lucky.  It had its meal, then climbed into a sheltered spot.  With luck it was undisturbed, even by me, and then flew off to grace another yard with it’s beauty in Orange and Black.