Welcome!

Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

With apologies to the Rolling Stones

Because you can't always get what you want...

What I wanted, was monarch butterflies.  Monarchs are in trouble as you are probably already aware. Each year they migrate through our area, and I wanted, very much, to be part of some solution I imagine we gardeners might be able to offer.

I bought a handful of tropical milkweed plants having been told that butterflies prefer to nectar at groups of flowers rather than singletons.  I fretted over and brushed off and squished the yellow aphids that seemed even more inexorably and immediately attracted to these plants than any butterflies.
I thought to myself "if it was aphids I was after, I'd consider this a stunning success".  But it is not and was not aphids I wanted.  I was happy to notice a ladybug going after the aphids but that was a consolation prize, not the main event.  Monarchs.  MONARCHS.  Send in the butterflies!

That is when I noticed this beauty out back.  A Papilio thoas (I think), otherwise known as a King Swallowtail butterfly.
These graceful large butterflies like to nectar on lantana, which I have scads of, and they preferentially oviposit on citrus trees.  We have four Meyer lemon trees out back, and also a makrut lime (called "kaffir" by some. As that is a derogatory term in several cultures, "makrut" is now the favored name).
Rather than having to go out and buy anything, I already have growing here in abundance just what this lovely butterfly needs and wants to support its life cycle.
Did I do that on purpose?  Nope, that is just the way the cards played out.  I wanted to attract butterflies and it turns out I have.  Just not the ones I expected.  In fact, as opposed to the potentially threatened migratory monarch butterflies, experts have noted the range and numbers of the Giant Swallowtail are increasing as they expand further northward following the higher temperature averages.
Wouldn't you flee to Canada in August if you could?  Yup.  Me too.

At the end of the day, I still am optimistic I'll attract a few southerly migrating monarchs to stop by the tropical milkweed I am trying to get established for them.  There are blooms in sight, along with more aphids...
Failing any Fall visitors, I'll be watching eagerly for drop ins when the monarch butterfly masses leave Mexico to head north once more next year. In the meantime?  I'm determined to fully enjoy the near daily visits of the Giant Swallowtail.  In the absence of monarchs, I'll consider the swallowtail visits to be just exactly what I need.


This post is part of Wildlife Wednesday, an attempt to raise our specific appreciation of not just the flora but also the fauna populating our outdoor spaces.  Thanks as always to Tina of "My Gardener Says" for hostessing!    

16 comments:

debra said...

Beautiful photos as always =) The lantanas really do seem to be butterfly magnets right now. I keep wondering if the oleander aphids really are a pest for milkweed. Since they are ubiquitous (plant milkweed and aphids always arrive) I think they must be part of a system: aphids attack plant, plant produces toxins, select caterpillars eat the leaves. On the other hand, I did read somewhere a report that said that aphids showed up in greater numbers when milkweed plants were water stressed. In their experience the aphids disappeared when the milkweeds were well watered. Only trouble is they were talking about a different kind of milkweed -- the rose milkweed which does need wet even boggy conditions. The idea that aphids mean the plant is stressed in some way may apply to the ones we grow here.

TexasDeb said...

Debra: I'm not sure if the aphid arrival is signaling the plants are in distress, but I know it distresses ME they are there. I'm trying to gently squish as many as I can to hold the populations down but that is about all I can see to do otherwise. These plants are getting good sun, water, and have had plenty of time to get over any transplant shock.

Hmmm. Maybe the aphids are watching for the monarchs too? Teeny tiny little butterfly fan clubs?

debra said...

That seems as likely a theory as any I have suggested =) For whatever it might be worth, I've grown Asclepias tuberosa now for about 6 years. This year I added the tropical milkweed. As far as I can tell the oleander aphids don't cause any harm and I haven't seen them spread to other plants. My tropical milkweed is now over my head and still blooming. The first year I grew them I went out every single day to wipe the aphids off but I've since given up as doing that seemed to make no difference to the plant's health. I do worry that people will stop growing milkweeds if they see them as buggy.

Tina said...

Those aphids are determined, aren't they? I've also had them covering the stems of my milkweed--though recently, no ladybugs like that little guy of yours--great photo! And that King butterfly? Beautiful. I get those through my gardens, but they're not landing. Sniff. As always, lovely photos and text--thanks for participating in this little meme and for helping our fauna friends.

TexasDeb said...

Tina: It is absolutely my pleasure to be a part of Wildlife Wednesday. Thank you for hosting!

I'm not sure we can consider ourselves gardeners if we aren't taking the fauna into consideration right along with the flora. Plant aficianados maybe. To me a garden is composed of everything growing in that space. Bugs (and others) included. A gardener is going to care of all of it.

The Kings spend a lot of time around the native lantana but it is our citrus that seems to really attract them. Apparently orange growers dislike these beauties as their wee ones can damage crops. Happily I'm not worried about that at all!

TexasDeb said...

Debra: That is good to know about the aphids not really harming the tropical milkweed and especially that they don't seem to spread to other plants. I'm pretty sure my attempts to get RID of the aphids is potentially damaging though so I'm STOPPING. Immediately (if not sooner).

Rebecca Newcomb said...

I have practically the same aphid/ladybug/milkweed picture in my Wildlife Wednesday blog post this month. Funny. That swallowtail is amazing! I saw one flit by my garden for a moment, but not long enough to fully appreciate or get a snapshot of. And the monarchs, I also haven't seen them in my garden yet...but I think I have a few caterpillars! I'm crossing my fingers that they will turn into beautiful monarch butterflies before being snatched up by other wildlife.

Travis Heights Garden Mama said...

The aphids are after my milkweed, too, but I am hopeful the ladybugs and friends (lacewings anyone?) will get them. I thought my neglected milkweed in the back was doomed (yellow leaves, stems becoming bare) but one day the aphids vanished (probably because of the beneficials) and the plant staged a comeback. I hope yours emerges unscathed!

Love the swallowtail butterfly- I didn't get as many caterpillars this year so they are a less common sighting. They are beautiful to watch!

TexasDeb said...

Rebecca: Hmmm. Ok so these aphids are pretty much an expected accessory to tropical milkweed then. Mine have yellow leaves at the bottom but they are getting good sun and if anything maybe a little too much water (I'm keeping seed around them moist until they germinate). I'll be watching to see if you can catch your caterpillars morphing into butterflies. I've always hoped to get to do that. Maybe it's not too late!

TexasDeb said...

THGMama: I do have lacewing eggs here and there so maybe help for my aphid problem is on the way. I didn't see as many caterpillars this year either but I sure have seen lots of anoles and birds and spiders. I wonder if one has anything to do with the other? (Cue "Circle of Life" song..).

dryheatblog said...

Aphids - that's something I don't miss from my old garden. Though thick, they never did more than disfigure foliage, with all plants outgrowing them. I hope you catch some monarchs on the way south with your mildweeds...

TexasDeb said...

DHB: Gardening without aphids....I'm not sure I know what that's like. Everywhere I've gardened for more than a year has supported populations of aphids. And I helped....

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

I know those monarchs are coming your way soon...they have been basking in the warmth in the mid-country but as the cold air sweeps in they will scurry south to you.

TexasDeb said...

Donna: Thanks for dropping by! There are a lot of Texans waiting with milkweed stocked garden beds to welcome the monarchs. It would be nice to see a few here.

I thought I spotted one yesterday but discovered it was a Vanessa cardui instead. I had fun watching it nectaring in the golden late afternoon sunlight.

Kris Peterson said...

I had the same problem with the milkweed I picked up but, in California, the law requires treating the plants with an insecticide that can harm butterflies for the 1st year so I'm not upset that they're ignoring the plant for now (although I'd still prefer to be aphid-less). I haven't had the greatest luck with lantana but plan to try it again.

TexasDeb said...

Kris: There are so many varieties of lantana - I bet you'll find at least one that will suit your needs and your spaces. They certainly tolerate drought and heat well and the birds here love the berries while many butterflies like to visit the flowers.

Is there a special way you are able to keep butterflies off your milkweed while they carry harmful pesticide residues?