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THE COMPLETE MILKWEED BUYING GUIDE

Photo of a colorful Monarch catapiller feeding on a milkweed leaf.

By Sam Doll

Monarch Butterflies are amazing North American animals! Their iconic, colorful wings are actually warnings for potential predators. Those spots and strips are big caution signs saying: STOP; I TASTE BAD!

Every year, the Monarchs embark on one of nature’s most astonishing mass migrations. This incredible journey takes four generations and covers over 3000 miles through the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Monarch mothers will only lay their eggs on milkweed plants (genus Asclepias) and, once hatched, their caterpillars exclusively live on and eat the leaves of those same plants. They cannot survive without them.

The problem is that milkweed has gotten a bad rap over the years. Allergies and perceptions of the wildflower as a weed have caused it to be wiped out throughout large portions of North America. The prevalence of pesticides has not helped and the loss of milkweed, wildflowers, and other floral resources has devastated the monarch butterfly’s population.

It’s not without hope, though! Everyone can do their part to help. The most important thing you can do is to plant more milkweed on your property and in your community. This guide to purchasing milkweed seed will help you figure out which species of milkweed is best for you, and you can help Monarch Butterflies!

Oh, and while you’re at it, check out our Monarch Rescue Wildflower Mix. It has Butterfly Milkweed and a mix of other wildflower seeds to provide a nectar-rich place for Monarch Butterflies to fuel up and raise their young! Find it here!

1.     Common MilkweedClose-up of the Common Milkweed flower.

The Common Milkweed is a hardy perennial with fragrant, terminal blossoms made up of tiny dusty-pink blossoms on hairy stems.  This milkweed is found throughout the Great Plains and is tough enough to tolerate most soil conditions. It does well in soils that are clay, sandy or rocky calcareous (high in calcium carbonate). These conditions occur naturally along stream banks, ponds, lakes, forest margins, and roadsides. Common Milkweed grows 2′ – 6′ tall and like areas with full sun. They bloom from June through September and will germinate between 65° and 85° F.

This milkweed is also a favorite of other butterflies, native bees and hummingbirds. The seeds will grow easily and do well when planted in the fall or when cold-treated for three months prior to planting.  Common Milkweed will spread both through seed normal distribution and as well as through underground shoots. Common milkweed spread readily and may need to be controlled. Common milkweed is particularly good for wetland rehabilitation and as a component in wildlife seed mixtures.

2.     Showy MilkweedThe fluffy seeds of the Showy Milkweed plant.

Similar to the Common Milkweed, this hardy perennial is a favorite of butterflies.  This species has traditionally provided food, medicine and fiber to indigenous peoples. The clusters of star-shaped flowers will range from dark-rose to white. The plant has tall woody stems with milky sap and with alternate, oval leaves that are velvety underneath. Showy Milkweed grows 24” – 36” tall and like areas with full sun. They bloom from May through July and will germinate between 65° and 85° F.

These plants grow well in a variety of locations from prairies and open woodlands to roadsides.  The seeds are very easy to grow and do well when planted in the fall or when cold-treated for three months prior to planting.  Showy Milkweed will spread through seed distribution and underground shoots

3.     Butterfly MilkweedClose-up photo of the blossoms of the Butterflyweed.

Also known as Butterflyweed, this hardy perennial. Unlike their cousins, this species lacks the milky sap that gives milkweed their namesake. The clusters of flowers will range from dark orange to white on tall woody stems with smooth shiny leaves that are velvety underneath.  The blooms begin in May and will last through July. These plants will grow between 12”-24” and perform well in a variety of locations; from prairies and open woodlands to roadsides.

Butterfly Milkweed is only pollinated by large insects. This trait is common among fall wildflowers, many of which depend on specific pollinators to survive. Butterfly Milkweed pollen is contained in a heavy, sticky structure called pollinium. Since these pollinium structures are so large and sticky, only larger insect pollinators can fly with them. There are several nectaries per flower and multiple flowers per bloom, which makes these flowers great pollen and nectar resources

The seeds will grow well when planted in the fall or when cold-treated for three months prior to planting in the Spring. Butterfly Milkweed will spread through seed distribution and underground shoots.

4.     Swamp MilkweedThe pink blossoms of the Swamp Milkweed with a visiting wasp.

 

The Swamp Milkweed is widely distributed across the U.S. and Canada; from Quebec and Maine south to Florida and Texas and west to Nevada and Idaho. This species prefers neutral to slightly acidic soil, although it will tolerate a pH up to 8.0. It has high moisture requirements, and it is usually found in wet habitats such as meadows, riverbanks, pond shores, stream banks, wet woods, swamps, and marshes, although it will also grow in drier areas such as prairies, fields, and roadsides. Swamp milkweed needs full sun or partial shade to flourish.

The plant grows into a two=foot tall perennial with fragrant, terminal blossoms made up of tiny rosy-purple blossoms.  This milkweed prefers average to very moist soils, will tolerate heavy clay soils and is easy to start from seed and deer resistant.  Like most milkweed, Swamp Milkweed seeds are easy to grow and do well when planted in the fall or when cold-treated for three months prior to planting.  Swamp Milkweed will spread through seed distribution and underground shoots.

Like the Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed is great for wetland rehabilitation and as a component in wildlife seed mixtures.

 

5.     Bloodflower MilkweedThe varigated orange and yellow blossoms of the Bloodflower Milkweed.

Bloodflower Milkweed, also known as Tropical Milkweed, is winter hardy in zones 9-11 and is easily grown from seed each year as an annual.  It is great for attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and a wide variety of pollinators.  Showy red-orange flowers with yellow hoods in rounded clusters grow on upright stems with medium-green, glossy, pointed leaves.  Attractive foliage and flowers for beds, borders, cottage gardens, meadows and butterfly gardens. It is also a good cut flower. Dried seed pods are attractive in arrangements.  Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves and the larvae feed on the plants. Plant in rich, well-drained soil.  These have a longer blooming period than most other milkweeds, ranging from June through October.

This milkweed is not native to North America and can potentially be invasive in warmer climates. If you’re one of our Southern friends, monitor your plantings and keep out of wild lands and ranches and cut the foliage to the ground in the winter to avoid luring Monarchs away from their migratory paths.

*Note that all milkweed contains cardiac glycosides, chemicals that are toxic when eaten. These chemicals, in turn, make the Monarch Butterflies toxic to any would-be predators. Avoid letting livestock and small children eat milkweed and wash any skin that comes in contact with the sap to avoid irritation.

Learn more about the Monarch Butterfly Migration by checking out this Blog post!

Monarch graphic.

 

 

 

 

 

Our 5 Most Popular Pollinator Seed Mixes

 

Honey Bee on yellow blossom.

Pollinators are the magic ingredient that makes our natural world work. They fuel lifecycles of entire ecosystems and are found everywhere flowering plants are. Humans are also incredibly dependent on pollinators. Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes. Honeybees, native bees, bumblebees, butterflies, birds, bats, and other wild critters are all incredibly important pollinators!

Unfortunately, we are losing our pollinators at an alarming rate. Insect pollinators are being hit especially hard. Habitat loss, exposure to pesticides, lack of food, and diseases are all leading factors in the decline of these species. We should all be concerned. One-third of our food, from coffee to strawberries, are dependent on pollinators to produce. We need these animals just as much as they need us.

We take our favorite wildflower seeds and blend them into pollinator seed mixes specially formulated to help create habitat and forage for the pollinators in your backyard. We make sure to use fresh, high quality, open-pollinated, GMO-free seeds because you deserve to have a successful, healthy, and fun planting experience. Our mixes are all seed with none of the fillers that you might find in other mixes because we believe you should get what you’re paying for.

Click here if you have any questions about how to select your site, plant, or care for our wildflower mixes!

Here are our most popular pollinator seed mixes:

 

1.     Monarch Rescue Mix

Monarch butterfly on pink blossom.

Monarch Butterflies are some of the most wonderful and strange animals on Earth. Every year, they migrate between the high mountains of Mexico through most of North America. This migration takes four separate generations of butterflies to complete and covers a massive amount of territory. To complete this migration, the Monarchs need plenty of forage and nesting sites along the way.

However, habitat and forage loss has been devastating for the Monarch Butterfly. Milkweed plants are the only plants that Monarch Butterflies will lay their eggs on. These plants have been wiped out of large portions of the United States due to concerns about allergies and their designation as a “weed”. Habitat loss and pesticide use have also reduced the amount of good forage for Monarchs, weakening them too much to complete their journey.

This is why we created our Monarch Rescue Wildflower Mix. This mix of Milkweeds and wildflowers is a Monarch Butterfly booster shot. This mix is full of nutrition and habitat for the butterflies passing through your area. Make your garden a Monarch paradise with this mix.

Find it here.

2.     Bee Rescue Mix

Honey bees on purple lavender blossoms.

Bees have had a rough time of late. The incredible loss of honey bees in recent years has been well documented and reported on. However, the crisis is much deeper than just honey bees. North America has over 4,000 species of native bees. Most native bees are solitary and are extremely effective pollinators. However, these little bees are little understood and are in even more danger than honey bees because they don’t have beekeepers watching out for them!

This colorful combination of wildflowers will provide nectar and pollen for full season support of native and introduced bee species.  Our “Bee Rescue” Wildflower mix has been designed to include the absolute best species to support the health and vitality for a wide range of native pollinators as well and the honey bee. These are the flowers that attract the most pollinators and will do well over the most growing zones.

Get our Bee Rescue Wildflower Mix here!

3.     Bumblebee Bonanza Mix

A pollen covered bumblebee on a pink blossom.

Bumblebee Bonanza Mix is a colorful mix that includes specially selected species of nectar and pollen-rich, annual and perennial flowers that are known to attract bumblebees and other pollinators and will provide quality forage from early spring until late fall.

This mixture of annuals and perennials is designed to provide early, mid and late season blooms to support the life cycle of the bumblebee as well as other pollinators. These flower species will do well in a variety of growing conditions and are recommended for a maintained, home-garden planting or commercial landscape.  The best time for planting this mix is in the early spring, early summer and late fall.

Buy the Bumblebee Bonanza Mix Here!

4.     Hummingbird Mix

Green hummingbird in flight.

This mix has been created with the vibrantly colored, nectar-rich species that hummingbirds love.  Consisting of mostly perennials, this mix will continue to provide support to hummingbirds and other important pollinators.  A few annuals are included to provide color the first year while the perennials become established and will bloom the second year.

Get it here and start enjoying your hummingbird garden!

 

5.     Honey Source Mix

Honey bees on a honeycomb.

A long blooming mix of beautiful, nectar and pollen-rich annuals and perennials put together just for our Honey Bee friends.  Plant this mix to provide vital nutrition for the European Honey Bees.  These hard-working pollinators are necessary for our agricultural production and are a major contributor to our food supply.  Lack of native nectar and pollen sources between crop rotations can cause stress and starvation that contribute to colony collapse.

Our Honey Source Wildflower Mix can be found here!

One Last Thing

At BBB Seed, we are deeply committed to providing the highest quality grass, wildflower, and grass seeds to empower our customers to get out and grow! This list of our 5 most popular pollinator seed mixes is intended to be a useful resource for you to see what products our customers and we are enjoying right now!

We also are incredibly concerned about providing sustainable and environmentally conscious products to you. We source seeds that are non-genetically engineered, tested, and grown sustainably. We hope these products will help you enjoy nature and learn about this wonderful world in the garden. We also strongly encourage you to visit our Pollinator Action Page to learn about the pollinators that make our natural world possible and learn more about what you can do to help them. Thank you!

Grow. Enjoy. Share…the beauty and the bounty!

 

Save the Monarch Butterfly!

by Sandy Swegel

The big nature news this week was an article in the New York Times that 2013 is the first year anyone remembers that the monarchs didn’t appear in the central forests of Mexico for the Day of the Dead. It’s part of the cultural tradition there that the annual migration of monarchs to their winter home in the mountains of Mexico represents the souls of the dead.  Last year scientists were worried when only 60 million monarchs came back to Mexico, but this year a paltry 3 million struggled in weeks late.

A primary cause of the monarch’s disappearance is the destruction of milkweed in the Midwest, the monarch’s only food. Native habitat in which milkweed thrives has been destroyed as prairie turns to endless mono-crops of Roundup-drenched fields of corn.  There are other factors such as massive deforestation in Mexico and the transition of prairie land to suburbia. But no milkweed means the monarch starves.

It’s interesting that the New York Times has been a big supporter of the monarch.  This was the third article in the last year in which they have featured the decline of the monarch. They have seen the writing on the wall.

What can you do?  Keep up the usual things you do opposing GMO crops that rely on Roundup to wipe out all native “weeds.”  There’s political action work to reduce the corn subsidies that make Roundup profitable.  But as a gardener, you can plant some milkweed and other native plants that will feed the many native pollinators in dramatic decline.  The monarch might be the prettiest most dramatic victim of our prairie destruction, but there are many others.  Gardeners understand the delicate web of life that depends on native habitat.  Tell your friends.

New York Times on the Monarch: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/24/sunday-review/the-year-the-monarch-didnt-appear.html?_r=0http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/13/opinion/sunday/monarchs-fight-for-their-lives.htmlhttp://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/science/earth/monarch-migration-plunges-to-lowest-level-in-decades.html

Photo Credit:http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/12/science/12butterfly.html?pagewanted=all