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Butterflies use milkweed to complete life cycle

We love butterflies, the Flag Corps of gardens. They flit, fly and pose on flowers while sipping nectar to live their life cycles while remaining close to their favorite host plants.
Monarchs migrate by flying across the Gulf of Mexico to winter homes where they morph into caterpillars and then into pupae. Monarchs hatch into beautiful creatures and then fly back to their summer homes to continue their life cycle here as documented.
This amazing creature of Mother Nature simply asks for a plant with suitable leaves to eat during the caterpillar stage of its life cycle.
Everything happens on schedule; laying eggs, hatching into caterpillars, eating leaves of host plants and then spinning cocoons where pupae live until they emerge as beautiful butterflies with wet wings to dry before flying away in the sunshine to begin a new life cycle.
Butterflies have simple requirements: shelter, as honeysuckle, milkweed and spicebush; water, in a shallow basin with rocks to sit upon while drinking; a safe place to lay their eggs and food for larvae, such as milkweed.
Now, enter an unusual variety of milkweed. Butterfly Milkweed Balloon Plant; Hairy Balls Seeds, Asclepias Physocarpus Oscar.
The new variety of milkweed was introduced to Jonesborough by Virginia Kennedy, a biologist thriving on testing new varieties of vegetables and ornamentals. Virginia gave seeds to Reece Barringer, an educator; the plants thrived for Reece who has two large bushes of the new plant to feed Monarch butterfly larvae.
Reece, who now has a plant for nectar and larvae food, catches Monarch caterpillars, and delivers them intact to Virginia who has a dry aquarium with a screen top to raise the caterpillars until they form pupae and hatch again into butterflies.
Virginia then tags the new butterflies, walks out into the sunshine and releases them into the world. A true symbiotic relationship between two friends working toward survival of the Monarchs is an example of mutual cooperation for a specific purpose.
This milkweed variety grows from seed to about five feet tall and six feet wide. Small white flowers bloom on sturdy, cane-like stems that attract Monarch and Queen Butterflies who use the host plant to lay eggs that hatch into caterpillars. The plant, an annual here in the TriCities, is fast growing and easy to grow. No special soil requirements except for good drainage are needed. Flowers magically transform into unusual translucent, soft, spiny, pale yellow tennis ball size balloons, adding fun to borders and flower arrangements.
Place a note in your garden diary to obtain seed of this plant and start a garden butterfly hatchery. Be prepared to have many Monarchs visit your plants, and their larvae, the caterpillars, eating the foliage. After all, the plant is their host providing food to guarantee survival of the species. For seeds, check the internet, order them and mark to plant in full sun after the last killing frost, about May 15. I congratulate Reece and Virginia for their cooperative venture into the life of butterflies. Happy Gardening Everyone!
Jeanne Cope is a Garden Writer
and UT Life Master Gardener
Email her [email protected]