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?

Mexican Milkweed is Surprisingly Easy to Propagate

Living as close to a nature preserve at M.E. DePalma Park means Monarch Butterflies float past my windows frequently.

I enjoy having them around, but it does mean that the food that I grow for them, Mexican Milkweed, is almost always eaten down to sticks.

It’s a bit frustrating because the cycle of life being what it is, the plants never get to the point where the

seeds will ripen enough to actually be able to replant.

I took a step back and looked at what was happening and realized that these things should be simple to propagate.  It turns out that I was absolutely correct.  Why wait for seeds, just wait for leaves.

The Monarchs being what they are will find the

milkweed, leave an egg or three on it, and move on.  This usually ends up where one sad little plant has three to six caterpillars fighting for food.  It also means that few live long enough to be butterflies.

My own attitude toward gardening is a pragmatic one.  If I have a plant that I like, I will try to propagate it.  If it propagates successfully, I end up having a lot of it.  For example, I am currently using “Screw Palms” or Dracenea Cane plants as ground cover because I have so much of it.  Take a cutting, drive it into semi moist soil to about the depth of your hand, and it almost always roots.

… In My Climate.  Your mileage may vary.

I have a long line of plant pots on a drip feed irrigation line.  This is specifically designed to allow me to grow more plants to take more cuttings to make the yard have more of the same plants.   It was also designed to be within the local watering regulations of a drip feed line – each head should be no more than one gallon per hour for example.

It’s quite successful.

So applying all that noise and technology, here is how I propagated my Mexican Milkweed.   I am seeing about an 80 to 90 percent success rate.

Step 1:  When the Milkweed has been eaten down to sticks, check for plant remnants where there is actually some leaf growth on it.  This will be your mother plant.  See above.

Step 2:  Cut a piece of the plant that has a leaf bud growing on it, that is at least a finger length long.  4 inches or 10 cm would be perfect.  I have had success with a cutting that had two leaf nodes on it.  About 2 inches or 5 cm.  I did not use rooting hormone, but that will only improve your success if you dip the root side of the cutting in the powder.

Step 3:  Push the cutting down into the soil to allow the existing last leaf node or two to show above ground level.

Step 4:  Make sure that the soil is kept moist and that normal growing conditions continue.  Growth should be fast and visible within a week or even a couple days.

Step 5:  When the cuttings begin to show some signs of vigor and begin to put forth new limbs, consider replanting in the ground or another pot.

That’s about it.  I have at least 20 cuttings growing now, and will be starting more when the mother plant puts out some more growth. The result would be like this flower head if ever the Monarchs let it get that far.  Usually this is where I spot the caterpillars doing their thing and turning the plant into Crudite.

Two Monarch Caterpillars

Apparently, I like to grow sticks.

Being where I am, there are Monarch Butterflies around me all year.  Wilton Manors, Florida seems to have a thing about turning itself into a nature habitat.  I’m near a park that is a nature preserve, the M. E. DePalma Park.

I’m lucky that it is handy, that park, because I walk past it frequently looking for seeds for more Milkweed.  I’ve got to borrow some more.  Monarchs are back.

They seem to know.  When the Milkweed just puts forth a flower, I notice them fluttering by my porch looking for a place to lay eggs.  I make it a point to go out back and look at my pots and sure enough under a leaf there is a grain of sand.

Monarch Butterfly eggs are about the size of a grain of sand and have a swirled pattern on top like a Chinese Bun.

The flowers never really come to term.  I almost never get seeds.   The park does, although usually about the time that the park is down to sticks, I sneak in some flowers and may even get a seed or three out of them.

We trade back and forth.

At this point I’m down to sticks.

Orchids are in bloom.

 

 

 

I have a pot of Poinsettia that is hip high, and I am 6’4″ tall.  It is in bloom.

 

 

 

My Coleus is running amok, even if I am recycling this and most of these pictures…

 

 

 

I have Podocarpus ready to plant.

 

 

 

I have red variegated Hibiscus ready to plant.

 

 

 

But that Mexican Milkweed?  That’s what it is there for.  Food for the Monarchs.  The last time I checked there were six caterpillars on one single plant.   Those plants won’t win.

Oh well, at least the Monarchs are happy and I have pictures of some that slipped in there when they weren’t watching last time!

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.

Flying Monarch Butterfly Relocation Program

Flying Monarch Butterfly Relocation Program

At one point I had Mexican Milkweed in my yard in full bloom.  I came down with what was the Flu, and

disappeared for about two weeks.  When I could finally pull my head out of the rabbit hole, I found everything in the yard was in bloom.   Mexican Milkweed was followed by Hibiscus, Bougainvillea, six different types of Orchids, and many other oddball plants.

My “farm” in the backyard was taking well, I could make a really bizarre salad out of a carrot and some green onions, because they were even growing.  Toss in some bamboo shoots for good measure, and it could be an Asian Salad.

Yeah, that much.  I’m in the middle of a Propagation Binge here.  All my plant pots are stuffed with all sorts of things waiting to root and be put into the ground.  Why not, we’re here, we’re going to stay for a while, may as well make it look good.  Summer is coming and therefore the Wet Season so everything will get a good start once in the ground.

That first day, I explored the yard and saw that my Mexican Milkweed also had a ripening seed head.  I’ll toss some seeds in the garden, and go back to tossing them all over the area.  Sometimes they grow, sometimes not.

Fast forward a few days.  My respite from having things eaten had ended and I didn’t realize it yet.

I was inspecting my cuttings.  The easiest way to get things to root is to use rooting hormone.  Then you stick the cutting in a pot, and keep that pot wet until you see growth.  I was seeing growth, but everything was so wet that the cuttings were leaning over.  My Bamboo cuttings especially, leaning to one side because that pot was more like a mud bog and the consistency of pudding.

Working my way down the chain of plant pots that are on the low flow irrigation, I noticed Banana was beautiful, Podocarpus was perky, and even the Milkweed was looking marvelous.

Well, not quite marvelous.  It had been discovered.  At some point during the last week, the Monarchs had started showing back in the neighborhood.  This far south in South Florida, we have “indigenous” Monarchs.  They live here all year around.  I like to watch them, and watch them I did from my bouncy Poang Chair sitting in the front window of the house.  They’d float by on the breezes, and I’d cough at them while healing slowly from the Flu.

There were also the ones that were black and yellow striped Swallowtail butterflies that would dazzle the eyes as they’d flutter past looking for my orange tree to lay eggs to make caterpillars that look like bird crap and have little red antennas.  I tend to flick them off my orange tree.  That tree isn’t doing that well, and losing leaves doesn’t help.

Off in the backyard, the Milkweed was doing its thing, being food for my Monarchs.  However there was

the matter of the seed pod.  I started pulling on it.

Not exactly the right thing to do at that point.  I did get the pod off the plant but the two caterpillars that were battling for supremacy got flung off.  Their black and yellow striped minds had to be thinking that the world had gone mad, or they were on a weird twisted carnival ride.

I rescued them with a Sea Grape leaf the size and shape of a CD.  You have to put the leaf under them and allow them to climb onto it because a Monarch Caterpillar will attempt to hold tight when being pulled away from a plant.  Then your natural reaction is to pull harder and you end up with a bifurcated butterfly that will never happen.

They don’t survive.

I put the two Caterpillars back in the pot and went back to the house thinking  that they may or may not survive unless they learn to eat the coleus that is in that pot.

The pod ended up on a container in the kitchen for the next few days.

Tending to making my breakfast that particular morning, I spotted a worm.  Or at least at first glance I thought it was.  I was going to turn it into worm smear when I got the bright idea to turn on the light.  What I really had was a one day old Monarch Caterpillar the size of an Inchworm.

I finished making coffee, turned the heat off and took the discarded Sweet n Low packet from the counter.  I was going to relocate this little creature to the park near the house.  It had climbed onto the pink paper and I took it out the door, down the block, and placed it onto the leaf of the Milkweed there at M.E. DePalma Park.

Straightening up, I looked down and saw it was on another nameless plant next to it.  Try again.

This time it ended up on the ground.  Try again.

Third time the charm, it was on the little Milkweed, and on its way.  Success!

Two days later, when we walked Rack the McNab SuperDog (TM) past that plant I pointed it out to him and said “There, boy! That’s the Monarch I saved”.  He looked up at me with his brown eyes, wagged his tail and went back to walking down to the yellow flowers to water them again.

All is well, we saved a Monarch after flinging two, stranding another, and probably starving more.  Need to stop growing Bamboo and start more Mexican Milkweed here!

Yellow Flowers, Green Leaves, Nearby Park

I’m out, therefore I take pictures.

I don’t know what I will use them for, but I take them anyway.

It pleases me.

It makes me feel creative.

And sometimes I even get some that I like.

This one is saved out to my Backgrounds directory at the moment, and I may even get some use out of it professionally.  After all, some of those little yellow flowers look amazing close up and blown to make them full screen.

But never mind all that.

They’re just pretty.

It’s over at the nearby M.E. DePalma park.

Knowing M.E., I’m expect anything in there to be native, or at least “endemic”.  That endemic stuff, she works hard to keep out.  Not knowing the difference, I just like the beauty.

Since I walk past the place a couple times a day, I’m able to take it in.

Having the flowers there, and the ever changing display, is one of many nice things about living in Wilton Manors.

But for now, I’m just enjoying the colors.

This picture was taken Mid September, so these blooms are long gone, but there are many others there.

I will say that my Monarch Butterflies are enjoying it too.  The Mexican Milkweed that is in there is always eaten to sticks, just like in my backyard.  Some of it may even be some that I planted, some not, but there are always a few nearby for the butterflies to eat.  I’m able to sit in my dining room, look out the big picture window and eventually a Monarch will float past.

All because someone had the forethought, common sense, and appreciation of beauty to plant a garden on a corner property too small to put up Yet Another McMansion in the land named after flowers.

Wilton Manors Sunrise

The locals will know exactly where this is.

NE 7th Avenue, NE 20th Street.  Right at the entry to M.E. De Palma Park.

It seems that I pass by there rather a lot.  I also have a reason to take quite a few pictures there.

In this case, the park was still in darkness, but the sunrise was what was so beautiful.

Actually it reminded me of the beginning of Teletubbies.  The radiant baby face rising over the grassy knoll that becomes the smiling sun over the Teletubby Land.

Ok, maybe that comparison wasn’t quite as far fetched as it sounds.  Wilton Manors as Teletubby Land.  I can see it on some level.

It was one of those rare mornings that I was sleeping in and not getting up at stupid o’clock.  Luckily that had me up at the right time to see the sun come up and smile over our happy and quirky little island.

A Meal Fit For A Monarch

I had to take Rack out back.  If I didn’t I’d probably get dragged there by him, to the door.

Breakfast was done, it’s our way.  We go out back, do a perimeter search and poke around.  It gives me a chance to fret over my gardens.

My normal limit for working with the garden is dependent on my flock.  Flock of Mosquitoes, that is.  If they follow me around, I usually blow off staying in one place for very long. 

This was a morning where the winds were calm so I was very mobile.

I have a spot in the back of the yard where the hedges have stopped growing.  The Night Blooming Jasmine that was so perfect when we moved in here 9 years ago is now looking rather scruffy and there are holes in it where parts of the plant had died back.  One of the plants is pretty much gone.

Going into the shed and retrieving the clippers, there was work to be done.  

Before going back to the corner, I was going to trim back some of the Mexican Milkweed in the last pot on the irrigation chain.  That particular pot has one, and only one plant in it.  I can’t get anything else to grow in it, and I can’t even get a second milkweed seed to root in it.  Passive aggressive pot.

But there it is.  It goes through cycles.  Once the flowers come out, it gets discovered by the Monarch Butterflies that shuttle from here to the M.E. DePalma park.  I get to see them often, and any day I don’t see at least one Monarch, it’s a bit strange to me.

Of course it’s shredded.  The plant, if you could be generous enough to call it that, is mostly sticks with a few leaves.  One Monarch to Rule Them All was on it.  It isn’t that there weren’t multiple eggs, it is that the plant never gets large enough for more than one Monarch to grow past the size of a thick hair.

Darwin would be proud of this battle of the fittest, because that is all that ever make it past Caterpillar stage.

There it was dutifully eating away the last few leaves that were on the plant.  The next day the leaves, and the Caterpillar, would be gone.  I prefer to think it found a place to turn itself into a Jade Green Jewel of a chrysalis, but who knows.

I vowed to take the seeds out there and try to start another plant, but I doubt it will succeed.  Each time they get past a few inches, something comes along and eats it.  That would be why I put the stuff there in the first place, food for Monarchs.  If they don’t let it grow, well, that’s their choice.

At least this one had its chance. 

Maybe in that back corner.  The Jasmine doesn’t seem to like it, and that will be gone back there as soon as I get working on it.  It was one trash can full of dead limbs this time alone.

Doing the Duck Walk in Season

Lately, the ducks have been taking over.

I’d had a Momma Duck in my yard not too happy with my coming over to take a picture of her and her brood a while back.  It worked out for the best because I was able to herd them on their way instead of having them land in the pool.

Once they know there’s water back there, it gets difficult to move a duck family on.

But lately it’s gotten a bit busy around here.

Here being the nearby M.E. DePalma Park in Wilton Manors. 

I was walking Rack the McNab SuperDog (TM) out that way in the evening when his non existent herding skills came into play.

You see, leaving my block, there was a clutch of ducks that we flushed out of the garden in front of my door.  When they spotted us open the front door of the house, Momma gathered the brood and walked off into the sunset.  I think they ended up in the neighbor’s garden.  That’s where they usually go.

I was on the porch anyway giving Rack a “rinse”.  Dogs get “doggy” smelling after a while, and that rinse keeps his black parts black, the white parts white.

We didn’t give Momma Duck too much more thought until we hit the more-main street near me.  Walking down to the park, there was another brood doing whatever ducks do in the middle of the street.  That is, blocking it.

This being Florida I’m not surprised when some large woman in an oversized SUV got annoyed.  When she was finished pulling out the video camera and getting a few feet of video, she wanted to go.  Of course she leaned on the horn.

Momma Duck ignored her.  Good for Momma.  She was there first.

Momma Duck was fixated on something else.  Rack.

You see, Rack isn’t really too good at herding.  The ducks are there, but he ignores them.  Usually herding

ducks are tried out on Momma Duck and Brood to see how good of a herding dog a Puppy can be, and I suspect Rack is just too Beta of a Beta Dog to try.

Momma Duck didn’t know that at all.  

We kept walking closer and Momma had a choice.  Leave the street and head into the park, passing my path, or she could walk away from the park and head away.

Ducks aren’t really the smartest of beasts.  Momma first tried to hide under the truck, then walk back to the park, then walk off the street, finally.  

All the while, I kept walking closer to her with Rack.  Rack kept sniffing at everything else, but never really paid the ducks too much attention. 

Herding dog, yes, but trained? No. 

No worries, he had another chance later in the walk.  It seems any time these ducks see a herding dog, or a dog in general, they tend to walk away from them. 

That’s what happens here.  Walk your dog in the Dog Walk Hour and you end up clearing the streets. 

It’s not about how you herd, it’s how good you look while walking the walk!

Momma Duck and Her Chicks at M.E. DePalma Park

When you place a natural habitat near water, you’re going to get water fowl.

That’s a good thing.

It means that you live in a city that is Progressive enough to understand that Nature belongs where people do.  It means that your city is actively taking part in keeping a bit of the environment natural.  It also means that they’re watching out to make sure that you aren’t “Cheek-to-Jowl” with one tacky house slammed up against the next one.

Nobody likes that except for the real estate developers. 

I’m lucky enough to have this little gem near my own house.  M.E. DePalma Park.  I have the knock-off effect that the butterflies that I love to watch float over to my own yard and do whatever it is that Butterflies Do.

I suspect it has something to do with the nectar in my Bougainvillea wall, and the other flowers that I have here.  That and the Monarchs that are aggressively keeping my Mexican Milkweed trimmed down to sticks. 

Silly butterflies, but that is what I plant the stuff for.

It was one of those Dog Walks.  I seem to see the most interesting things on these walks, from natural to the human-space, as well as quite a lot of quirky things that go on here.  It’s an entertaining city to live in, Wilton Manors, Florida.

We walked past the little park that evening.  Me and my sidekick, Rack, the McNab SuperDog (TM).  If you want to get to meet the neighbors, get a dog and go for a walk between 5 and 7 any evening.

I was gathering my act together and Rack had spotted them.  My being self-absorbed in the work of tying a knot in a “dog bag”, and we all know how enthralling that can be, allowed Rack to pay attention to the hissing in the underbrush.  I stopped what I was doing and paid attention.

Momma Duck had taken up residence in the park under some trees in a partial thicket.  She’s been there long enough this year for me to believe that she laid the eggs there and would waddle down to the South Fork of the Middle River that keeps us happily separate from Fort Lauderdale, and find food.  She would then return and tend to her own flock.  There isn’t enough wildlife that would want to turn those eggs into an impromptu omelet here in town, so I’d say she’s safe where she is at.

Momma didn’t like my standing there getting my camera ready, and the babies wandered off one after another.  Finally Momma left, hissing at me. 

Seemed a little half-hearted, but these Muscovy Ducks are the distant descendants of pet ducks that had been brought in many years ago.  They’ve never been a nuisance that I have seen, and they do keep some of the other pests at bay. 

Or at least at river.

Having gotten my pictures, I told her goodbye and got ready to leave  She stopped hissing as soon as I made my comments, and went back to the business of tending to her little brood in the little corner of the little park in the middle of the little Island City.