Maybe natives ARE better after all

While I prefer to plant California natives in my garden, I do, at times, wonder whether I'm getting carried away. Take Asclepias, the butterfly weed that is a primary food source for the Monarch butterfly. What could be wrong with planting a non-native butterfly weed? After all, the most favorite hangout of the monarchs along the California coast are the Eucalyptus trees.

Still, I enjoy the rare beauty of Asclepias speciosa, a native butterfly weed. I love the flowers, and enjoy the seed pods. I even did a post only about this plant here.

So imagine my surprise when I saw an article in the  New York Times Science Tuesday section last week that came down fairly hard on the side of the natives. talks about research being done that compares monarchs that feed on native milkweeds with monarchs that feed on a non-native species that is popular in the trade and therefore with gardeners.

...But the most widely available milkweed for planting, the scientists say, is an exotic species called tropical milkweed — not the native species with which the butterflies evolved. That may lead to unseasonal breeding, putting monarchs at higher risk of disease and reproductive failure.

See the article for the details. Research is still ongoing, but I'm feeling much happier about my milkweed going dormant in fall, with no danger of tempting any butterfly at the wrong time of year.


Ed Morrow said…
A while back, at a local native plant sale, someone was handing out free packets of Ascelpias fasicularis seeds. I took a couple of packets - how can you resist free seeds - and eventually started some in conetainers. I've now got thirty some pots of narrow leaf milkweed ready to plant out early next year. They're easy to germinate and grow on, but they are aphid magnets. Every couple of days I need to go on aphid patrol, zapping the aphid infestations with some homemade soap insecticide. This won't be practical once the plants are out in the field. Any suggestions on how to control for aphids once they are planted out?

Ed Morrow
Carmel Valley
Anonymous said…
Ed: Just leave the aphids alone? They won't kill the plant, and they're good food for ladybugs, praying mantises, birds, and lots of other predators. I grow narrowleaf milkweed, and mine are always covered with aphids, but I just don't worry about it.
Town Mouse said…
Ed, yes, I agree with queerbychoice. Just leave the aphids, you'll get more birds. BTW, A. speciosa seems less of an aphid magnet than A. fasciularis...
James said…
Print out the article to put next to the milkweeds at the next plant sale! I was working my local sale a couple years back and several people kept asking for milkweed. But when I took them to the native milkweed we had, something that wasn't than the colorful Mexican species sold in the regular nurseries around town, many turned their noses up at the humbler local plant option.