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native florida milk weed seeds

Milkweed- Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) (Florida Native)

Butterfly Weed is a perennial plant native to Florida, as well as eastern North America. It can grow over 3 feet but tends to stay around 2ft. Around the 2nd or 3rd year, A. tuberosa will bloom clusters of yellow/orange flowers that attract butterflies/pollinators. Although the the larval host plant for the Queen and Monarch butterflies, A. tuberosa does not have high concentrations of the milky sap, making it a last choice for the Monarch to lay her eggs, if other milkweeds are around. Butterfly Weed prefers dry/sandy soil and full sun, and does very well, here in Central Florida. Butterflyweed can adapt to almost any Florida soil type, as long as its well draining. Save the well amended areas for the fruits and veggies. Butterflyweed needs regular watering throughout it’s early days, but is very drought tolerant when established. Direct sow in the Fall to let the seeds over-winter for a Spring and Summer bloom. If planting seeds in the Spring or Summer, the seeds need 2-4 weeks of cold/wet stratification. The Butterflyweed makes a tap root up 4-6 inches long, that it will regrow from, year to year. Be aware of the large roots if transplanting.

Days to germination 10-15 days with Sunlight
Days to maturity 180-365
Plant time October- May (Perennial)
Spacing 12 inches
Sun Full sun to part shade
Soil temperature 55-78 degrees F
Optimum soil P.H 6.0-7.5
Height 24-36 inches
Harves-t June-August

Milkweed- Butterflyweed

Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly Weed is a perennial plant native to Florida, as well as eastern North America. It can grow over 3 feet but tends to stay around 2ft. Around the 2nd or 3rd year, A. tuberosa will bloom clusters of yellow/orange flowers that attract butterflies/pollinators. Although the the larval host plant for the Queen and Monarch butterflies, A. tuberosa does not have high concentrations of the milky sap, making it a last choice for the Monarch to lay her eggs, if other milkweeds are around. Butterfly Weed prefers dry/sandy soil and full sun, and does very well, here in Central Florida. Butterflyweed can adapt to almost any Florida soil type, as long as its well draining. Save the well amended areas for the fruits and veggies. Butterflyweed needs regular watering throughout it’s early days, but is very drought tolerant when established. Direct sow in the Fall to let the seeds over-winter for a Spring and Summer bloom. If planting seeds in the Spring or Summer, the seeds need 2-4 weeks of cold/wet stratification. The Butterflyweed makes a tap root up 4-6 inches long, that it will regrow from, year to year. Be aware of the large roots if transplanting.

Milkweed

Milkweed is the poster plant for pollinator gardens. Not only is it attractive, it’s an important nectar source for bees and other insects. Milkweed is also well known for attracting butterflies and serving as a host plant for their caterpillars.

Perhaps most famously, milkweed species serve as the host plant for the monarch butterfly. Milkweeds in the genus Asclepias provide the only plant material monarch caterpillars can eat. And this popular plant hosts many more besides monarchs. Queen and soldier butterflies rely on the leaves to feed their young, too.

The Sunshine State is home to more than twenty species of milkweed, almost all of which are native. A couple of these species, in fact, are endemic, meaning they’re found only in our state.

Two milkweed species are commonly offered for sale as “butterfly garden plants.” One, Asclepias tuberosa, is native to Florida. The other, Asclepias curassavica, is non-native. Which should you choose for your garden? Read on for more information about native and non-native milkweeds.

Native Milkweeds

Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, is attractive, available, and native to Florida. Credit: Ansel Oommen, Bugwood.org

Unless you visit a nursery that specializes in native plants, you are unlikely to find more than one native milkweed species for sale. Still, we think the rewards make these species worth the search. Adding these natives will make your landscape a refuge for Florida’s flora and fauna.

Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, is one of the most available and popular native species of milkweed. It sports attractive, bright blooms and is very hardy. For these reasons it is frequently stocked in nurseries around the state. Butterfly weed grows as a perennial in USDA Hardiness zones 3-10a. From late summer through early fall it produces orange or yellow flowers. A. tuberosa’s vibrant colors make it attractive to a number of pollinators.

Other native milkweeds are available as well. A list is provided at the bottom of this article, taken from the Atlas of Florida Plants. You may have to seek them out in nurseries that specialize in natives or butterfly gardens. But for a pollinator-friendly garden, we think it’s worth the effort.

Non-native Milkweed

Tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) is beautiful, but not native to Florida. Credit: Ansel Oommen, Bugwood.org

In many nurseries, the most readily available species of milkweed happens is a popular but non-native one. Tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) is a showstopper. It produces bunches of orange, yellow, and red tubular blooms for months. The colorful flowers earned it the name bloodflower and scarlet milkweed commercially. Sometimes it is labeled “butterfly weed” or simply “milkweed.” Check the label for the scientific name to avoid confusing this plant with a native milkweed species.

Recent research has scientists divided over tropical milkweed’s value to monarch preservation. Its year-round growth may encourage monarchs to overwinter instead of following their normal migration pattern. Some studies suggest that overwintering puts monarch populations at a higher risk for certain diseases. Tropical milkweed also has a higher concentration of cardenolides, which may affect monarchs in the caterpillar stage of their life cycle.

On the other hand, some scientists are in favor of tropical milkweed. They point out that the most pressing threat to monarchs is extreme habitat loss. Tropical milkweed’s popularity as a landscape plant may help the monarchs regain territory.

Another non-native milkweed is giant milkweed, also known as crown flower (Calotropis giganteana). It is native to Asia and tropical Africa. Giant milkweed makes an excellent specimen plant in Florida-Friendly landscapes between USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11. As its name suggests, mature plants are quite large, up to 15 feet tall and wide. For this reason we suggest adding it to the back layer in a pollinator garden.

Like all milkweeds, the giant milkweed has milky sap and is a larval host plant for butterflies. The large purple or white flowers are pollinated by bees and butterflies and are used in making Hawaiian lei. Giant milkweed is a hardy plant and can tolerate the hot sun and sandy soil in Florida. It is also drought tolerant and has few pest or disease problems. You can learn more about giant milkweed in this article by UF/IFAS Orange County Extension agent, Tia Silvasy.

Asclepias curassavica and Calotropis giganteana are not currently considered an invasive species in Florida. The assessment does suggest “caution — manage to prevent escape” for growers in South Florida. Tropical milkweed’s status will be reassessed periodically. More information about this non-native is available through the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants. Calotropis gigantean is not listed in the assessment at present.

Planting and Care

Most milkweeds prefer full sun. They tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions, from clay to sand. Many Florida species used in the landscape prefer dry, sandy soil and are moderately drought tolerant.

Milkweeds generally grow quickly, reaching a final height of one to four feet tall, depending on the species. You can plant them closely, about 18-24 inches apart. And whether or not the milkweed is being installed as part of a butterfly garden, plant multiple plants. Too few and you will be left with leafless milkweed and hungry caterpillars! Planting multiple species can also increase the attractiveness to butterflies and other pollinators.

An adult monarch and a monarch larva (caterpillar), both feeding on milkweed. Credit: Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org

As a host plant for a number of pollinators, use of pesticides on milkweed is discouraged. As a result, expect some aesthetic damage throughout the growing season. Install milkweed behind ground covers or mounding plants to hide the stems but show off the blooms. Monarch caterpillars can consume a plant’s leaves quickly, but do not usually damage the plant long-term. Aphids can also cause damage. Keep these in check with a blast of water from the hose instead of applying pesticides.

Milkweeds get their common name from the milky sap they exude. This sap can irritate skin and is toxic if consumed in large quantities. Keep pets and small children away.

For more information about milkweed and other pollinator species, contact your county Extension office.

Finding native milkweed plants can be tricky

Florida is home to 22 types of native milkweeds – the plant everyone wants to buy to help save the monarch butterfly – but good luck finding them in local stores.

You’ll find lots of milkweed for sale in big box stores and nurseries – but it’s not native. It’s Asclepias curavassica, or tropical milkweed.

Monarchs will happily lay their eggs on tropical milkweed and their hungry caterpillars will strip it clean. But butterfly experts say the tropical variety is confusing the insects and possibly doing more harm than good.

And that has prompted several organizations to join forces to help make native milkweeds commercially available in Florida.

TROPICAL CONFUSION

Though not technically “endangered,” the population of the iconic orange-and-black monarch butterfly has plummeted in recent years in large part to the loss of wild milkweed to development and changing agricultural practices.

A number of organizations such as Monarch Watch and the North American Butterfly Association have launched a nationwide effort to plant milkweed, especially along the monarch’s annual migration routes that start as far north as Canada and end in Mexico. The migration routes pass through Florida.

Milkweed has not traditionally been a plant found in nurseries because, as its name suggests, it’s considered a weed. But suddenly it was in big demand and nurseries began growing it.

And one of the easiest ones to grow – at least in the South – is tropical milkweed.

But it’s not native – and that’s a problem.

“Tropical milkweed doesn’t die back in the winter and that interferes with the monarchs’ life cycle,” said Ginny Stibolt, author of “The Art of Maintaining a Florida Native Landscape.” “They see their host plant and so instead of migrating they stay and continue to breed, possibly exposing them to freezing temperatures.”

Year-round breeding might sound like a good idea for a threatened species, but researchers have found that butterflies that breed out of season are more prone to a parasitic disease called OE – Ophryocystis elektroscirrha – that can cripple and sometimes kill them. One way OE is transmitted is through milkweed leaves that are eaten by caterpillars.

Stibolt said cutting back tropical milkweed in the fall can help reduce transmission of OE and force the monarchs to migrate. Milkweed is a tough little plant that will grow back in time for the return of the monarchs in the spring.

NURSERIES ADAPTING

But a better strategy is to plant milkweeds native to Florida.

Angie Loper of Reflections of Nature said their native nursery in Fernandina Beach tries to stock native milkweeds in the spring. The only ones that are commercially available are Asclepias tuberosa or butterfly weed, Asclepias perennis or aquatic (white) milkweed and Asclepias incarnata or swamp (pink) milkweed.

“I’ll order 50 to 60 of them, but the grower doesn’t always have that many available. They take a long time to propagate, so the grower will only allow me to get so much,” she said.

Making more native varieties commercially available is the goal of a new project by a number of groups including the Florida Association of Native Nurseries, the Florida Wildflower Foundation and the Maguire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

“Natives are adapted to our climate and soil,” said Jaret Daniels, associated curator. “But until recently there hasn’t been much demand, so the nursery trade is having to catch up.”

But it’s not going to be easy.

“Some species are challenging to grow in large numbers,” Daniels said. Seeds are difficult to find. Some of the varieties are vulnerable to insects and disease, or having growing patterns that are difficult to replicate in a nursery.

“We don’t have best protocols for a lot of these species,” Daniels said. “What soils they like, the moisture levels, seed storage. The nursery trade is just now learning how best to propagate them.”

One milkweed that researchers would like to see established more widely in Florida is Asclepias humistrata, called sandhill or pinewoods milkweed. “It’s one of the first ones to flower in the spring, which is really important for the monarch,” he said. “And it’s a handsome plant. It has a sprawling growth habit with white flowers tinged with lavender and purple-veined leaves.”

Its long taproot makes it difficult to grow in containers, Daniels said. It’s best to directly sow the seeds.

But first you have to find the seeds and you won’t find them at Home Depot. They have to be collected from the plants in the wild, which means you have to know where they are, when they are setting their seed pods and get there before the pods burst and the seeds are scattered to the winds.

“We’re working with growers to try to develop techniques to grow more species,” Daniels said. “We’re working to identify populations of these plants so seed collection can take place. We’re working with land managers to try to find populations of the plants so we can collect seeds or cuttings.”

The project also is working the Florida Department of Transportation to identify milkweed populations that grow along roadways and reduce mowing when the plants are setting seed.

Consumer demand will play a key role in establishing native varieties in the commercial market, Daniels said.

“When they go to a specialty nursery, they can ask for it. If there is a demand the market will respond to the demand,” he said. “We will see an increase in production in the not too distant future. It’s going to take some time but it will definitely happen.”