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In search of milkweed for the hungry caterpillars

As you can imagine, seventeen monarch caterpillars can eat a lot of milkweed.

We only had the two narrow leaf milkweed plants.

Unfortunately our "Davis" milkweed Asclepias speciosa'Davis' didn't grow taller than a couple of inches.

And the foliage on our Wild Cotton milkweed Asclepias cancellata that we've had for at least ten years in a large container is definitely not soft. Instead the leaves are stiff like thin cardboard.

So what do you do when those hungry little caterpillars are running out of food?

Last weekend we still had some lush branches remaining on the second narrow leaf milkweed plant so we carefully rationed out the leafy stems we cut twice a day for the caterpillars.

It was especially alarming when I kept discovering more little monarch caterpillars on the branches that I cut. More hungry mouths to feed!

I read online that monarch caterpillars in their fifth instar can and will eat sliced cucumbers or butternut squash. So we cut some cucumbers from our garden into lengthwise slices with skin on. The caterpillars weren't too crazy about the cucumber but did nibble on them.

Within a day they were already in "j" position, so there was no longer need for food for them.

We still needed milkweed for the other caterpillars.

After calling several local independent nurseries near us, we got lucky.

East Bay Nursery in Berkeley

informed me that they had seven milkweed plants remaining for sale, and that they were surprised that so many people have been purchasing milkweed plants. This makes me happy that word is getting out that everyone can help the monarch butterflies.

The person at the nursery assured me that the growers who supply them with the milkweed don't spray the plants with Bt Bacillus thuringiensis , an anti-larval plant spray. They also told me that they've found monarch chrysalides on these plants, as well as monarch caterpillars.

Tony, my boyfriend, rushed over to the nursery and purchased four of the plants.

They turned out to be Virginia Silk milkweed Asclepias syriaca.

Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of the plants because when I got home from work in the evening we cut stems with leaves off of the plants to feed the hungry caterpillars who were crawling all around their pop-up hamper looking for food.

Now they are happily munching their way through the big leaves.

This is what the Virginia Silk or Common Milkweed looks like.

The photo is from the Monarch Butterfly Garden website.

This website has been provided me with so much helpful information, I'm so grateful to them.

Eight chrysalides now, and eight caterpillars to go. Still keeping fingers crossed that all goes well with them.

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