Around this time each year, I start looking for monarch caterpillars and worry when I can't find them. Chunks of orange milkweed are scattered across my garden beds and a stand of slightly bent and twisted swamp milkweed, headed for a moister, sunnier spot next weekend, grows near several other pollinator attracting plants. The swamp milkweed looked pathetic and had been ignored by the monarchs. I couldn't say I blamed them. But tucked away in the orange milkweed, several future monarchs munched.
Asclepias tuberosa, commonly known as orange milkweed, is an outrageously tough plant. Growing to about 2 ft, it grows in dry soil and can even tolerate high, bright shade but prefers full sun. I let mine self seed.
This picture is too bright, but the milkweed grows near a blue Monch aster, which also attracts pollinators. I found 6 caterpillars, including one that was preparing to form a chrysalis.
I call this bed near my river birch the Founding Flowers garden because many of the plants I used to fill it were part of my original garden design. They were moved to this bed last fall after struggling in the dry shade of my ever increasing ash/oak tree canopy. Two rue plants grow near the variegated iris. Rue is one of the larval foods for swallowtail butterflies.
I found 10 swallowtail caterpillars of various stages chomping away on the rue. I've seen big, pricey pots of it at the garden center, but the best way to buy it is to purchase a smaller pot from the herb section. They are perennial and very cold hardy. I cut them back in late winter and again after they bloom in the spring. They have yellow flowers and beautiful bluish foliage.
All of the coneflowers in this bed were seedlings I found around the garden. This one decided the show wasn't over and is blooming again.
Swallowtail butterflies will lay eggs on parsley, rue, fennel, and all plants in the carrot family. I had planned on pulling up my purple carrots to make a carrot cake this weekend, but when I saw all the caterpillars in the rue, I decided to leave them alone. I might still find caterpillars in them.
Nepeta and variegated iris