Time to Trim the Milkweed at Dahlia Heights

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During recess, a few kids helped me cut back the tropical milkweed last week. Milkweed is the plant the monarch caterpillars eat. The tropical variety has red orange and yellow flowers and looks like this:


There are also native California varieties that usually have pink flowers, though the plant comes in many different colors. 

Recent research has shown, though, that the tropical milkweed most commonly available in nurseries can have a negative effect on the Monarchs. This is because in our climate the plants do not die back over the winter. Caterpillars that overwinter on these tropical milkweed plants have been shown to carry a parasite that can be passed to the migrating monarchs when they meet up again in the warm season.  

The best fix to this problem is to plant native milkweed that dies back naturally every winter. If you already have tropical milkweed planted, though, the fix is to cut it back in the winter so that the butterflies do not continue to breed. It will grow back when it warms up and the migrating monarchs need it. 


So last week when I was pruning the milkweed this during maintenance time, I had a few helpers. This week, we still found a couple small plants that we missed last time. Milkweed has fuzzy seeds like dandelions that blow all over the garden. It’s difficult to catch them all! Can you see the caterpillar on here?


One of my students took pity on this cold, curled up caterpillar and made him a little bedroom. 


We talked about what was happening with the caterpillars and why they were so cold and why we had to cut back the milkweed.

The result of all this is, the kids took the caterpillar on as a class pet. We cut back any milkweed we missed last week and they will feed it to him, sprinkle water on it so he can drink, and hopefully watch him transform. 

The word on the street is, he perked up considerably once he warmed up in the classroom, and he started moving around like a regular, warm caterpillar. 

Alexandra Carbone

Garden Ranger Alex has multiple school gardens with Enrich LA. She loves teaching kids about ecosystems and how to observe nature so they can be good stewards of it. A close second is feeding kids salad in the garden and sending produce home for their families.

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