En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - November 19, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Butterfly Gardens
Title: Texas native variety of butterfly weed
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Which variety of Butterfly Weed is the native Texas variety? I want to know which one supplies the proper defense against birds to the Monarch butterfly through it's nectar? I have heard that the non-native one does not and I can't figure out which one this is. Is it the one with red and yellow flowers? Thank you!

ANSWER:

There are several species of butterfly weeds or milkweeds that are native to Texas.  It isn't the nectar that the adults feed on, however, that supplies the main defense against birds.  The main defense comes from the foliage of the milkweeds (Family Asclepiadaceae) that the larvae feed on.  All milkweeds contain cardiac glycosides which are sequestered by the monarch larvae and then transferred to the adult stage at metamorphosis.  These glycosides cause vomiting in 12 species of birds.  After such an incident the bird learns that butterflies with the monarch's pattern are distasteful and, thus, learns to avoid them.  Adults feed on nectar from various flowers, even milkweed flowers; however, they acquire another chemical defense, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, from the nectar of flowers in the Family Asteraceae (Aster Family).  These alkaloids, however, are not as effective in defending against predation as the the glycosides obtained by the larvae from feeding on milkweed foliage.

You can see a list of Texas Milkweeds and the Caterpillars that Feed on Them compiled by Mike Quinn, President of the Austin Butterfly Forum.  On this list you will note that Asclepias asperula (antelope-horns), Asclepias latifolia (broadleaf milkweed), Asclepias oenotheroides (zizotes milkweed) and Asclepias viridis (green antelopehorn) are the most important ones.  All four species occur in Travis County, but the commonest one is A. asperula (antelope-horns). I think the one you are referring to as the one with red and yellow flowers is Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed).  It is a beautiful plant and is certainly a foodplant for the larvae.  It also supplies nectar for adults, but it is not very common in the area and is not considered one of the most important milkweeds for monarchs. Many of the other milkweeds on the list occur in Travis County as well.  You can read more about these other milkweeds in our Native Plant Database by searching on their scientific name.

You can read more about the monarch's chemical defenses in Antipredator Adaptations by Monarch Butterflies by Kim A. Pike.

You might also like to read Milkweeds, Monarchs and More: A Field Guide to the Invertebrate Community in the Milkweed Patch by Ba Rea, Karen Oberhauser and Michael Quinn.


Asclepias asperula

Asclepias asperula

Asclepias latifolia

Asclepias oenotheroides

Asclepias viridis

Asclepias tuberosa

 

 


 

More Butterfly Gardens Questions

Pollinator garden for Belen NM
May 16, 2012 - Trying to set up a flower garden to attract bees and butterflies. Can you tell me what would be best to grow. I live in Belen, NM.
view the full question and answer

What species of Aristolochia occur in Hidalgo County, TX?
August 06, 2009 - What species of Aristolochia or are in the Aristolochiaceae family occur in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, particularly Hidalgo Co., TX. Both Pipevine and Polydamas Swallowtail butterflies occur down h...
view the full question and answer

Non-toxic plants for dog yard from Freeport PA
June 24, 2012 - I'm looking for wildlife-friendly native plants that aren't toxic to dogs. I have a place for some small shrubs and/or flowers. And a climbing vine that I could train on a trellis would work espec...
view the full question and answer

Dieback of Indigo Spires and whirling butterfly
June 02, 2008 - I have an Indigo Spires plant that is turning yellow and dying back. I have fed it but nothing seems to perk it up. I also have whirling butterfly plants that are losing leaves and dying back. What...
view the full question and answer

Butterfly Plants for D.C. Garden
July 16, 2015 - I have one half of the side of the house face NE and the other half faces NW. The front of the house faces east. The back of the house faces west which is woody with native trees of Rock Creek Park of...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center