Monarch butterflies feed primarily on milkweed plants (asclepias species). But if you are not careful, you could accidentally be poisoning the insects you are trying attract to your yard. According to Donna Kay, a Master Gardener and member of the Calusa Garden Club, “If you are into butterflies, do not buy any butterfly host plants from big box stores, as they all have poison in them.”
“It does not take long for the monarch caterpillars to die – one bite or two of the poisoned plant, and they’re dead,” says Chip Taylor, the director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas.
Warning: Beware of the milkweeds sold from big box stores!
The non-native, tropical milkweed (asclepias curassavica) is the most commercially sold species of milkweed. It has bright orange/scarlet flowers year-round and is easy to grow, and it iseasily mistaken as a native species. They are treated with insecticides called neonicotinoids (neonics), a systemic insecticide that affects every part of the plant. When monarch caterpillars eat treated leaves, they fall off the plant within minutes and slowly die. It is the native milkweed that the monarchs need to survive.
Donna Kay has always been a proponent of using native plant nurseries when buying plants for the Butterfly Garden. And when it comes to her own butterfly garden, she is just as picky, insisting on using only native plant nurseries.
Some big box stores are slowly making changes, but few will give you assurances that the plants have not been treated with neonics. Some retailers are now requiring their suppliers label all plants treated with insecticides, and others have announced that by 2019 they will phase out products containing neonics.
“Butterfly Ladies,” from left: Susan LaGrotta, Gwyn Goodman, Mary McIntosh, Donna Kay, Barbara Messner, Sue Oldershaw, and Maria Lamb. Submitted Photo[/caption] style=”font-weight: bold”>What Can You Do?
If you want to attract monarchs to your landscape, your best option is to buy milkweed from native or organic nurseries only if they can assure you they don’t use a systemic insecticide. Seek out a native garden center as they most likely grow their plants from seeds and are certified Florida Friendly Landscaping by the University of Florida. Native milkweed plants may be hard to find, but it’s worth the effort.
Gardeners from the Calusa Garden Club make sure most of the plants at the Butterfly Garden are purchased from native nurseries in the area. The “Butterfly Ladies,” as they are fondly called, gather at the garden on the last Saturday of each month to weed, fertilize, prune, water and watch the butterflies flutter by.
For more information on the Calusa Garden Club, visit the website Calusa.org.