Bring Back The Monarchs With Milkweed
Pickens Master Gardeners Offer Monarch & Milkweed Symposium to Public


Bring Back The Monarchs With Milkweed

5/9/2019 ~ by Suellen Reitz, Pickens County Master Gardener

There is a popular phrase that has been used to promote dairy products people recognize immediately... "Got Milk?' Well, I propose we modify it and help it become just as renowned... to... "Got Milkweed?"

Say what???? That's right… milkweed… the nectar of the gods for the king of butterflies, the glorious monarch. In fact, this nectar is more than just a favored feast… it is indeed the essence of life and essential for the monarch’s survival.

The leaves and stems of milkweed contain a milky sap that is toxic to most insects and is a bitter taste to birds. This toxin remains in both the caterpillar and adult butterfly. Because both are brightly colored and seen by would be predators as a snack to avoid, nature has provided the monarch a great defense mechanism.

Female monarchs will only lay her eggs on the milkweed plant. Once found, she lays each pin sized egg on a separate leaf. She may have anywhere from 100 to 500 pin sized eggs which will hatch in 5 to 10 days. The yellow, black and white striped caterpillar will molt several times in the two weeks it devoirs the leaves before beginning the next stage of life by spinning it’s chrysalis. While in its cocoon, metamorphosis is completed in about 2 weeks when the beautiful monarch spreads it’s wings for the first time.

Here in north Georgia, the monarch reproductive cycle can be seen from April to early May as they are returning to their northern homes from Mexico. There are several generations of monarchs that make the journey north and back to Mexico in the fall. Later generations can be seen throughout the summer. During the reproductive stage of monarchs, the life span is 2 to 6 weeks.

Sadly, it is estimated only 10 percent of each generation of monarchs survive to adulthood. Some experts believe it to be a much smaller number. The availability of milkweed plants have dwindled in recent years and many of those found in Georgia which are non native, can actually be causing the decline.

Tropical milkweed which is very showy and attracts the monarch can survive the mild winter climates of Georgia. Migrating monarchs do not continue south when they find these tropical milkweeds. When a frost happens, the monarch, unable to withstand sub freezing temps, dies.

Come learn everything you need to know in helping our beautiful monarchs in the upcoming free symposium on May 11 from 1-3:00 p.m. at the Pickens Extension Office, 502 Stegall Drive, Jasper, GA. Sponsored by Pickens County Master Gardeners, participants will hear monarch expert Susan Myers share her knowledge on how to protect the monarchs and provide the habitat it needs. Other topics will include landscape design ideas, and little known facts of the dangers of pesticides. Bring your questions and get the facts you need to help our winged beauties flourish.

In addition to great door prizes and delicious refreshments, a limited number of hard to find pesticide free native Georgia milkweed plants in two varieties and milkweed seeds will be available for a nominal fee.

Asclepisia Turberosa, commonly called butterfly weed, displays a showy bright orange mass of tiny petals from June to August. Mature plants are about 2 1/2 feet in height, are deer resistant and prefer dry soil and sun. You will often see this milkweed growing on the sides of country roads.

Also available will be the asclepias incarnata, commonly called swamp milkweed or Eastern Swamp milkweed. These milkweeds can be seen in wet areas and marshes of North Georgia. They grow from 2 to 6 feet in height depending on light and soil conditions. It can tolerate heavy clay, and partial shade but requires a well watered environment. Also deer resistant, it’s blossoms can be mauve, pale pink and even white. The blossoms last from mid summer to fall and also attract hummingbirds.

We can all make a difference and help the majestic monarch flourish in Pickens County. Mark your calendars now for May 11 at the County Extension Office on 502 Stegall Drive for the Monarchs and Milkweeds Across Georgia Symposium from 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. Bring a friend and spread the word… “Got Milkweed?”