Milkweed for Monarchs….and everyone else!

The recent push to plant Milkweed for Monarchs is a welcome development in the gardening community.  Monarchs are dependent on Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) for their survival, as it is the only food their caterpillars can eat.  But it’s not just for Monarchs! LOTS of pollinators visit the flowers to drink the nectar.  I took my camera out to several of our patches of Orange Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) yesterday to document a smapling of the variety of insects I see on the flowers.

One of the common names of Asclepias tuberosa is ‘Butterflyweed’ so one would expect to see butterflies.  This female Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) is dipping her long proboscis into the nectar rich base of the flower in order to drink it up.  It’s like a built in straw.

A close cousin, the Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) also feeds on the nectar. Much like the Monarch Zebra Swallowtail caterpillars can only feed on the leaves of the plants in a single genus, Asimina, or Paw Paws.

This Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) was looking a little tattered, as it was probably approaching the end of it’s ~2 week long adult life.  It was still sipping nectar as it rested on the flowers.

Bees also love the nectar from this plant.  Here a Green Sweat Bee (Agapostemon spp.) perches it’s tiny body atop the flower as it sips nectar from inside. It’s just one of the hundreds of species of native bees here in Georgia.

Another Native bee, possibly a Leafcutter bee (I’m not an entomologist), feeding on nectar.

Another possible leafcutter bee: the whitish mat of hairs on the underside of it’s abdomen are used for collecting pollen.  Look closely to the right of the bee and you’ll see an ant sipping nectar as well.

Speaking of Ants, this Fire Ant also found it’s way up the 3 foot tall stalks for a sugary meal. Ants can be pollinators too, and they are responsible for dispersing the seeds of many spring blooming wildflowers such as Trillium and Bloodroot.

This Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) feeds on nectar as an adult, but like most wasps it hatched from an egg laid on another insect and fully consumed it before the metamorphosis into it’s current winged form.  Golden Digger Wasps are predators to Grasshoppers, Katydids and Crickets.

This Yellow Jacket adult enjoys sugary nectar, but its larvae need a more protein rich diet, which the adults supply by hunting other insects (many of which are agricultural pests).  Wasps are much maligned by humans, but without their predatory behavior we would be literally drowning in bugs and our crops would be decimated.

And finally, not everyone is there for the nectar! This is one of several clever lizards I’ve seen recently near blooming flowers lying in wait for some distracted pollinator to drift too close…..

Milkweed is for Monarchs, but after they have migrated north it’s for butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, ants, beetles, aphids, and even lizards.

Living Green Series

  We recently took part in the ongoing collaboration of The Wylde Center, DeKalb County Public Libraries, and the City of Decatur by speaking at their Living Green Series of educational talks on May 6th.  Pandra and I talked about our native bee species and what the public at large can do to help maintain and create habitat for them.


 About 15 people came out to hear us speak, which isn’t bad for a Monday morning at 10 a.m


Pandra let them know all about Bumblebees and their method of buzz pollination, which makes them much more efficient pollinators.


I described how bees fill their pollen baskets on the backs of their legs.


More talk of pollen, this time on a Blue Mason Bee.


And then a few samples of housing built for bees.  We demonstrated how to roll up tubes of old newspaper to create similar houses for Mason Bees and let everyone join in the fun after the talk.  We enjoyed meeting and talking with a number of people very enthusiastic about helping out the bees with a few nectar plants here, a few bare patches of ground there, and a few bundles of tubes up a tree.

And speaking of insect housing, check out this cool link someone emailed us just this morning.  Houses for insects can be interesting garden sculptures as well.

The Living Green Series  continues in June with a composting workshop for the whole family!  Compost is one of those things that may be daunting to start, but it quickly becomes a habit, or a way of life, and it’s one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your waste stream dramatically AND you get free soil amendments.  Mark your calendar for June 15th and make sure to RSVP for this FREE class.