Oklahoma is an important way station on both the spring and fall migrations of the Eastern Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus).
Monarchs leave their winter home in Mexico in February and March and head north. Their first stop is in Texas. They look for milkweed. The adult butterfly lays her eggs on the plant and the caterpillars that emerge eat the leaves. These caterpillars will pupate and transform into the butterfly we know and love – from egg to butterfly in about a month.
When the next generation of butterflies emerges it flies farther north, and into Oklahoma.
In Oklahoma they repeat what they did in Texas and continue to do so as they move north, up to four generations during the North American growing season, reaching as far north as southern Canada.
In August, the last generation born in the north begins its 3,000 mile odyssey south, back to Mexico. On this epic flight south they need food and shelter, and nectar from fall blooming plants is crucial to their survival. (Click here for a video of this amazing journey)
The survivors of this epic trip spend the winter among the fir trees in one mountain range in Mexico, waiting for spring, and its opportunity to fly north and at long last, find milkweed and lay their eggs to begin the cycle once again.
Oklahoma is home to 26 varieties of milkweed (Asclepias spp.). Milkweeds grow in every quadrant and eco-region of the state. We have put together a list of these species and where they grow in Oklahoma so you can see which are native to your area or soil type. This will help you plan your milkweed garden.
At the Kerr Center we have planted butterfly milkweed and swamp milkweed in our Native Plant & Pollinator landscape. Both are nice-looking plants and used by milkweeds.. The swamp milkweed is especially attractive to monarch butterflies as a host plant.
In 2015 Kerr Center Pollinator Project manager David Redhage will be planting a variety of milkweed seeds in our greenhouse. Seeds are often planted in fall, but if treated properly planting them in very early February may yield good results. We have picked several varieties native to Oklahoma: tall green milkweed (Asclepias hirtella), butterfly weed (A. tuberosa), common milkweed (A. syriaca), showy milkweed (A. speciosa), green milkweed (A. viridis), swamp (pink, rose) milkweed (A. incarnata), antelope horns (A. asperula), short green milkweed (A. viridiflora), whorled milkweed (A. verticillata), and prairie milkweed (A. sullivantii).
According to the Xerces Society, about 20 species of milkweed are available commercially. For information on seed and plant vendors visit the Xerces Society website; it allows you to search for seeds by state. Currently there are no seed vendors listed for Oklahoma, but several are in neighboring states that offer seeds of species native to our state.
Check your local nursery for milkweed plants. An Oklahoma native plant, butterfly milkweed, is widely available. Look for native species.
Visit the Xerces Society to find sources of milkweed seeds: http://www.xerces.org/milkweed/
Visit Monarch Watch for information on buying milkweed plants.