The Twelve Days of a Green Christmas…Ninth Day

On the ninth day of Christmas my green friend gave to me nine milkweed plants…eight chocolate bars…seven bales of straw…six coffee plants…five bamboo toothbrushes…four stainless straws…three pairs of socks…two recycled pallets…and a new electric car!

In years past my green friend gifted me many milkweed plants, none of which were Florida native, although not exotic. In recent conversations about native plants I expressed my desire to plant Florida native milkweed plants this season. With than in mind my green friend gave me five Florida native Butterfly milkweed plants, Asclepias tuberosa and four Swamp milkweeds, Asclepias incarnata.

Monarch caterpillar on butterfly milkweed Photo Credit: FANN

Florida has more than 20 native species of milkweed, but only three are readily available in nurseries: butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), swamp milkweed (A. incarnata and A. perennis). Asclepias perennis requires a wetter soil so you don’t see this variety in yards often. While the milkweed plants I had planted in seasons past were not exotic they were  also not native to Florida. I have since learned the problem with planting non-Florida plants is the possibility of encouraging year round populations of the Monarch butterflies instead of the normal spring and fall migrations. That can make them vulnerable to a deadly parasite known as Ophryocystis elktroscirrha (OE), which can be passed from infected butterflies to healthy ones. With the declining Monarch butterfly population I want to do everything I can to encourage more Monarchs in my yard!

Pink Swamp Milkweed Photo credit: FANN

So why the declining butterfly population you might wonder? With stronger and more toxic chemicals added to pesticides/lawn fertilizers milkweed fields have been disappearing from our landscapes, most importantly in the Midwest. As agricultural cornfield areas have increased their use of GM (genetically modified) corn seeds and herbicides to intentionally kill milkweed plants the monarch population has dramatically decreased  Also, too many homeowners believe the milkweed plant to be a nuisance “weed” and do not want it in their manicured landscapes so the lawn services rid their yards of these beneficial plants. Other thoughts on the declining population include climate change, increased use of genetically modified plant seeds/plants use and illegal logging and deforestation in Mexico.

According to the data from the WWF (World Wildlife Foundation)-Telcel Alliance and Mexico’s National Commission for Protected Areas the number of butterflies hibernating in Mexico was at an all-time low in 2013.  At a 44% drop from the 2012 migrating season (November-March) only 1.65 acres of forest were inhabited in December, 2013! This is the lowest since the surveys began in 1993.

Monarch Butterfly
Photo: Wikipedia

Monarch butterflies are not only valuable for aesthetic reasons but butterflies and moths are also valuable indicators of our environmental health and a healthy ecosystem! They are an important element in the food chain and are prey for birds, bats and other insectivorous animals. I didn’t think it was a big deal about the type of milkweed I planted as long as I planted some but now that I know there are only three species I will plant in the future! If you would like to add some Florida native milkweed plants to your landscape this year and don’t know where to find a native nursery I would recommend the Florida Association of Native Nurseries (FANN) to locate a nursery close to you.

Thank you for taking time to read my post! Please come back tomorrow for the Tenth Day of a Green Christmas! If you’re curious about the history of the Twelve Days of Christmas you can find that here. Join me tomorrow and see what my Green Friend gifts me…I’m sure it will be fun, educational, or possibly edible! Whatever the gift I know it will make a positive impact on the environment!


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