Why no tropical milkweed at the Cockrell Butterfly Center plant sale this year?

Asclepias_curassavica_(Mexican_Butterfly_Weed)_W_IMG_1570

Aslepias curassavica

We are sorry to disappoint monarch enthusiasts, but the Cockrell Butterfly Center has decided not to sell tropical milkweed (aka Mexican milkweed, Asclepias curassavica) any more. Instead, we will have a limited quantity of native milkweeds for sale. Recently, biologists studying monarchs have discovered that tropical milkweed may be a factor in the spread of a parasitic infection that attacks monarchs. The infection is called Oe (short for Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) and is transmitted by spores that fall from an infected female’s body onto the hostplant when she lays her eggs. The hatchling caterpillars eat the spores along with the leaves, and become infected themselves. After a generation or two or three, the infection level becomes so high that the butterfly dies (sometimes in the caterpillar stage, sometimes in the pupal stage, and sometimes as the adult).

This could happen with any milkweed – the problem with the tropical species is that it does not senesce (die back) in Houston’s mild winters but is perennial, growing throughout the year. In contrast, native species die back to the ground in the winter, and when they regrow in the spring they are spore free – so the infection cycle is broken.

Also, researchers have found that some monarchs in the southern part of the USA don’t bother to migrate if they have milkweed available. These year-round residents have been found to have very high levels of Oe infection, because they are mostly using the tropical milkweed species generation after generation. While this probably doesn’t greatly impact the migration as a whole, we don’t want to contribute to the local spread of the disease.

If you do already have tropical milkweed, one solution is to cut it back severely a couple of times a year. Even better is to remove the tropical variety and switch to native milkweed species. Unfortunately, so far these are not widely available in the nursery trade and are not as easy to grow as the tropical variety!

Aslepias viridis

Aslepias viridis

We are all learning and struggling to do our best for the butterflies. This year we will have a limited quantity of two native species at our spring plant sale: Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis) and Antelope Horns Milkweed (Asclepias asperula).

 PlantSaleSpring2015_Facebook_cover

Our next plant sale will be Saturday, March 28, 2015 from 9 a.m. to noon, or until we sell out. It will be located in its usual spot on the 7th level of the Museum parking garage. We hope you will try growing native milkweeds, and please let us know how it goes for you!

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Swords and Shutterbugs: Our Samurai Pixel Party Recap

After-hours at the Museum on March 1, we hosted one of our exclusive Pixel Parties — where we open select exhibits just for photographers (both amateur and professional). For our first event of 2015, we gave photographers access to Samurai: The Way of the Warrior.

And here’s a small sampling of what they gave us in return:

B. Tse photography

B. Tse photography

B. Tse photography

B. Tse photography

scscphotography

scscphotography

Roberto Valerio

Roberto Valerio

Alfred J Fortier

Alfred J Fortier

Nicholas Foster

Nicholas Foster

James Woody

James Woody

Alfred J Fortier

Alfred J Fortier

Arie's Photography

Arie’s Photography

sulla55

sulla55

Reed's Photography

Reed’s Photography

Bethany Tiner

Bethany Tiner

Dwayne Fortier

Dwayne Fortier

Randall Pugh

Randall Pugh

We couldn’t fit all the wonderful photos into this blog post. To see even more photos from this event, please visit our HNNS Flickr Group page.

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Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 3/16-3/22

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week! HMNS SL exterior

Add some science to your Spring Break!
HMNS – Hermann Park
Check out our five special exhibitions: Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Samurai: The Way of the Warrior, Shark!, Faberge: From a Snowflake to an Iceberg, and Gemstone Carvings! Watch the newly released film, Humpback Whales 3D, in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre. Be sure to stop by the Morian Hall of Paleontology during your visit to see our favorite Diplodocus, Dipsy, who was recently installed.

HMNS at Sugar Land
HMNS at Sugar Land has extended Spring Break hours from March 7-22: 
Monday-Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. & Sunday: 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Explore the special exhibition Crystals of India, take part in the P.A.W.S. Reading Program this weekend, and more at HMNS at Sugar Land!

The George Observatory
Bring your family out to Brazos Bend State Park to enjoy the George Observatory. Amateur astronomers also bring an array of telescopes for you to look through and learn about the night sky. Come early to enjoy a Discovery Dome movie and look at the Sun with our solar scope.

 

 

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