The king of the Lepidoptera order has taken up residence in my humble little flower patch. There's no mistaking this caterpillar, it is indeed a Monarch.
The last few weeks I've been seeing a butterfly flitting about the garden that looks like a Monarch, but it has never stopped moving while I've been around so I couldn't be sure because there are a few Monarch look-alikes that can be found here.
A couple of months ago I found one tiny caterpillar on one of my milkweed plants but the poor little thing wasn't healthy and I found it dead not long after I spotted it.
I speculated that it might have been because the milkweed it was feeding on is not native to the Monarch's range. Happily I am wrong, you can see from the photo above that this caterpillar is thriving and is eating the plant down to a nub. And there's a couple of families of caterpillars happily chowing down on a few other plants.
This milkweed is one tough plant, it has to be to survive in my garden because the only plants that get TLC have to produce food for me. This is Gomphocarpus physocarpus (syn. Asclepias physocarpa), a native of southeastern Africa. The flowers are pretty but not showy.
The most notable feature of this plant are the seed pods, which are the inspiration for some of the plant's various common names including Family Jewels, Hairy Balls, Devils Balls, Balloon Plant, and others.
The one thing that I don't like about this plant is its attractiveness to aphids which turn the plants into a yucky sticky mess that eventually gets infected with sooty mold. On the other hand, one thing that I have always appreciated about this plant, other than those suggestive seed pods, is that it's something that the deer will not touch - not one nibble.
Now that I know that this milkweed is food for the Monarch caterpillars I'll allow it to volunteer around the garden a bit more. If the caterpillars feeding in my garden successfully pupate and become butterflies they won't have far to go to find a place to spend the winter, the nearest overwintering habitat is only 25 miles away in Pacific Grove.