Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Company

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


56 comments:

  1. The butterflies must love your garden! Some years ago I had a rue plant which had outgrown its boundaries and was producing babies all around. I ruthlessly pulled it out, and now I regret it! The swallowtail caterpillars loved the rue, and I am sorry I did not leave some for them. The striped caterpillars were so beautiful, and I miss them. I want to replace the rue and have had a hard time finding it! I am determined to find one for my wildflower garden, where it can grow and spread as it wishes. I also have orange milkweed in that area, which I think is lovely.

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    1. My rue has never self seeded but it could be because I cut them back a bit after they flower. Weird that it's so hard to find in your area.

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  2. Thanks for your comment on my blog and for the sources for rue plants!

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  3. You have such handsome caterpillars and a welcome environment for them! I love that highly variegated iris, and saw two nice sized pots of them a couple days ago while plant shopping. I might go back and get them -- that sword shaped bright foliage really pops in your photo.

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    1. Variegated iris is a really tough plant. I had them in the wrong spot for several years and I'm impressed they never died. They love the moisture and partial sun where they are now. Go back and get a few pots!! :o)

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  4. How exciting for you! Thanks for all the great info on plants the swallowtails like. The Founding Flowers garden is impressive!

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    1. Thanks! Filling it with plants that were miserable in other parts of the garden and then watching them thrive has been really satisfying.

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  5. Wow, I've never seen variegated iris! It's striking. I'm searching my milkweed for little caterpillars. I've seen several Monarchs over the past couple of weeks. Hoping it's just a matter of time. You must be beside yourself with anticipation...so many cats to nurture along :)

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    1. One has already formed a chrysalis under a coneflower leaf. It tried to latch on to a blade of pennisetum but kept falling off. I moved it to a safer and broader spot. I was actually getting worried that the monarchs had skipped my garden because although I had seen butterflies, I hadn't seen any caterpillars. I was so relieved to find these little guys.

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  6. Tammy, you've got a lot of butterflies! But their caterpillars may eat your veges.

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    1. These caterpillars don't eat vegetables. :o)

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    2. Tammy, are you OK? I was waiting for you on my blog :((

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  7. Wow, what a beautiful caterpillar. I haven't seen any in my garden. Have a nice week.

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    1. Monarchs are a North American butterfly but I'm sure you have many caterpillars we don't. When I read European blogs I always see pictures of butterflies I've never seen before.

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  8. Good information. It's so nice to be able to have so many complete their cycle in your gardens. Wonderful photos.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Thanks! Parsley likes dry soil and hot weather. It doesn't need any pampering at all.

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  9. Lucky caterpillars...having a bed to themselves...so generous. They are spectacular looking creatures, can't wait to see them in their butterfly glory x

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    1. I just hope the birds don't find their chrysalises and eat them. I've had that happen before. :(

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  10. Love this post! I learned something and delighted in your wit and pictures. Plump, stripey caterpillars look like they are cartoons come to life, don't they? Thanks for the treat. :)

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    1. Such a perfect analogy! They do look like little cartoon characters!! Very Looney Tunes. :o)

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  11. The stripey caterpillars have an interesting pattern, not at all intimidating. I'm always amazed at Mother nature's creativity. With such kindness and generosity on your part, your garden will soon be afluttered with many of these beautiful winged critters.

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    1. I do have a lot of butterflies. This year I had less buckeyes because I didn't grow 2 plants that I usually do. I miss the buckeyes so I'm buying pink gomphrena and snapdragons again next spring.

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  12. Congratulations on your little family there, especially the Monarchs-I haven't seen any of their caterpillars this year. I'll have to get some rue next year too, I had some once but it was such an unattractive plant that I pulled it out-now I'm not so picky as long as it's helping the butterflies.

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    1. That's weird that your rue was unattractive. It loves slightly moist, rich, well draining soil. It's worth another try. It also grows well in a pot.

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  13. Cool! Earlier in the summer we had a bunch of them all over our parsley. I like your Founding Flowers idea.


    Also --I didn't know you went to Univ. ND and were aware of that part of the country. I loved it out there. I knew I liked you too! :)

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    1. I've found them in both the flat leaf and curly parsley. :o) I love the Dakotas. They're the anti-noVA. The people are so tough and resilient. Are you familiar with Harvey Dun's artwork? A print of his painting 'Prairie is My Garden' hangs in my home. I think you might like it, too.

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  14. Great finds in the garden, you have some very happy caterpillars. I have seen some great photos of Rue lately....will have to add some next year.

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    1. Rue is awesome! Plus, it's really easy to grow.

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  15. The caterpillars make great photos, they are so pretty. I haven't seen any like that in the garden.

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    1. We probably have different caterpillars. I also saw a caterpillar tonight called a woolly bear. Do you have those in Ireland?

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  16. What a great job you've done attracting butterflies. Congratulations on creating such a lovely nursery. That variegated iris is amazing, what a striking plant.

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    1. Variegated iris is a beautiful, tough plant with bright purple/blue spring flowers. It would look great in your garden!

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  17. This is the time of year that they eat everything in the garden!!! I don't mind but here's the breakdown. To have pretty butterflies, a gardener has to remember two things. Leaves will be munched. And two. Winter comes and plants go dormant with munched leaves. But then new growth happens again when spring starts. The purpose of this? One must be happy with munched leaves for awhile in our Tucson gardens:) I've got no issues:)

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    1. I don't mind how many leaves they much. They're all going dormant in the next 2 mos anyway. :o)

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  18. I have fennel and parsley planted next to each other and the black swallowtails seem to have preferred the fennel over the parsley. That is not to say they didn't eat the parsley but they laid many more eggs on the fennel. I have only seen two monarchs in my garden and no caterpillars yet.

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    1. It's odd how they pick a favorite every year. They all devoured my fennel first, then the parsley, and now they're in the rue. Last year, they ate the rue first. :o)

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  19. I love the way you plan to cater to the butterflies' needs Tammy. I want the butterflies but am much more random in my plantings. There's a moral to be found here ...

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    1. I'm a methodical, researched based gardener. I do buy plants on impulse sometimes but because my garden funds aren't as vast as I'd like them to be, I always keep a goal in mind of buying those that attract wildlife. It helps me feel like I'm getting more bang for my buck.

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  20. Butterflies are dreamy creatures to me. So beautiful they are and I don't mind if they eat a few of my plants. Besides, they are great pollinators for the garden, too.

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    1. They're so beautiful they almost don't seem real sometimes. I don't mind if their babies eat my plants!

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  21. I agree, the caterpillars and the photos are great!
    Jeannine

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  22. How exciting to be able to see the monarch caterpillars! I don't have any milkweed in my garden - I really need to add some. I love the variegated iris - it adds a lot of structure, as well as having such interesting foliage. Your asters look beautiful, and that was smart to put them next to the milkweed to attract more butterflies there.

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    1. I've found that the more I cluster my pollinator attracting plants, the more pollinators I attract. Monch asters are workhorses. :o)

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  23. Tammy, I so appreciate that you consciously created a mini-ecosystem in your garden for the butterflies to thrive in. They seemed to appreciate it, too. I can feel your love for nature in your post and in the way you are gardening and find it so inspiring. Thank you for that!
    Christina

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    1. Thanks! An ecosystem is exactly what my garden is. :o) I love it when creatures find it so hospitable they decide to stay. Unless they're the bad bugs. They they gotta go!

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  24. Wow, how exciting to find so many in your garden! I really should get some rue for my garden, and I love that variegated iris. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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    1. You're welcome! Rue and the var. iris are great together.

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  25. Excellent information. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to see your guests. I suppose I should look at my orange milkweed.~~Dee

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    1. You probably have a bunch of caterpillars chomping away. :o)

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  26. Tammy that is very thoughtful and generous of you to provide a home for all the caterpillars/butterflies.
    My girlfriend has a butterfly garden, and I first learned of planting milkweed to attract them from her. She started a Barbados Butterfly Project and Caribbean Gardeners groups on Facebook.
    Have a look when you get a chance.

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    1. I checked out their pages and was very surprised to see monarchs in the Caribbean! I never thought they migrated that far south. Gardening wouldn't be as much fun for me without wildlife, except for your monkeys. I could live without them!

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  27. Somehow I hadn't heard of rue before -- how is that?! I will have to get some.

    The Monarchs live my Swamp Milkweed above all else. It got to flowers AND feed the Monarch cats, so everybody's happy! Lots of Monarchs and Viceroys around now, it's their peak time here.

    I agree that Orange Milkweed (I call it Butterfly Weed) is outrageously tough. It really is!

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    1. I call it butterfly weed, too, unless I'm really tired and then it just becomes 'the orange stuff'. :o) Rue is awesome and would look great with all your roses and iris.

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  28. It's so cool that you plan your gardens based on the nature it attracts. This is the clear sign of a seasoned gardener vs. the 'newbie' gardener that I realize I am. I've a long way to go. (I am excited to say I saw my very first hummingbird last week, early in the morning, hovering over a Hosta bloom. I nearly cried with joy...) :)

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