I snapped this photo last month in a nature preserve. The showy bloom caught my eye and I was pretty certain it was a milkweed. Since I’m looking to add some milkweed to my front yard I thought this might be a contender.
Sadly, a bit of online research proved me wrong. It is a milkweed but not a native one. Tropical Milkweed is a year-round bloomer, originally from Mexico.
It is quite popular with caterpillars but unfortunately, also a favorable home for the parasite, Ophryocystsis elektrosirrha. Many monarch butterflies already play host to the parasite and transmit them when laying their eggs.
The difference is that native species of milkweed die back during cooler weather, thereby reducing or eliminating the number of Oe on the plant. Tropical Milkweed does not, so when the hungry caterpillars emerge and start devouring the plant they ingest extra Oe. Most species can successfully tolerate some parasites but when the balance tips it becomes a problem.
This bright specimen will not be added to my pollinator garden but thankfully, there are 21 native species for me to choose from.