Thursday, September 4, 2014

Royalty in the Flower Patch

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.


  1. That is why I let dill volunteer so aggressively in my garden. I love the swallowtails that eat it. If they didn't I'd restrain the plants more. Sometimes they really get in the way.

  2. Neat. I take it this particular milk weed is planted as part of your flower border? I have native milkweed (otherwise known as weeds) growing at the edge of my so-called lawn, but so far no guests.

    1. My so-called flower border, sort of, really just anywhere it has volunteered and I haven't weeded it out.

  3. That is SO awesome!! I've been considering planting some sort of Monarch garden at the farm, or at least plants that they like. I need to check that out. Congrats!!

  4. Monarch caterpillars are so beautiful - if I found one, I too would be tempted to just sit & watch it going about its business.

  5. Wow, the caterpillar is as impressive as the butterfly! And you have taken some great photos of them too.

  6. Michelle, nice Hairy Balls you have there. Congrats on growing a Monarch caterpillar. I planted a butterfly garden this year, or rather replanted my existing one, and we had a lot of caterpillars over the summer.

  7. That's a very pretty Monarch caterpillar, I've seen couple beautiful migrating butterflies in the garden recently, couldn't tell whether they are Swallow Tail or Monarch, I always get them when the peonies bloom in spring.

  8. Hi, down here in New Zealand the milkweed is called a Swan Plant and people buy specifically for Monarch butterflies, well the caterpillars, to eat. Swan plants are everywhere here, when one of my sons were at kindergarten they grew them so they could watch the butterflies hatch.


Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I value your insights and feedback.