This isn't the sort of dilemma I would have faced on February 12th in Kansas.
Then I remembered our recent visit to 7 Pines Native Plant Nursery. Didn't Dara say that she'd moved a block of white milkweed into her greenhouse to overwinter? A block of white milkweed that had turned out to be well salted with monarch eggs, which had turned into monarch caterpillars, which had munched their way through her plants and successfully pupated? If those white milkweeds were still in her greenhouse, would there be enough foliage for these guys?
So I called Dara to ask. Yes, she had white milkweed in her greenhouse. It was Asclepias perennis, which likes a wet spot in the garden. That wasn't ideal, given my sandy hill yard, but Dara reported that the plants were leafing back out and that she'd be glad to sell us some.
Greg and I discussed our options. He said that he'd been planning on ordering me a bouquet of roses for Valentine's Day. Then he asked if I would prefer some milkweed plants instead?
Of course I jumped at that idea! Even if the caterpillars didn't make it, or if the milkweed plants didn't like our yard conditions, we were still attempting to make our yard more wildlife friendly. The roses - while they would be very much enjoyed and appreciated - would be dead in less than 10 days. The milkweeds seemed like a great Valentine's Day flower arrangement to me.
So Greg and I jumped into the car and headed up to DeFuniak Springs, where we found a nice block of white milkweed beginning to leaf back out, just as Dara had promised, along with a couple swamp milkweed (A. incarnata) and a couple butterfly milkweed (A. tuberosa), also leafing out. After my normal lengthy period of cogitation, I decided to get 6 white milkweeds, 2 swamp milkweeds, and 2 butterfly milkweeds. We then had a relaxing and enjoyable time wandering the nursery and finding a few other gems that HAD to go home with us, as well as talking with Dara and Lloyd about such weighty topics as sausage, beer, and Ft. Walton Beach restaurants. Finally Greg and I said good-bye, got back into our car, and headed home, intent on caterpillar rescue.
Since the weather was predicted to get down into the 30's for the next 2 nights (and since the milkweeds had been in the greenhouse all winter), I decided to transfer the caterpillars to the new milkweed plants and put the grouping in our laundry room, by a floor length window.
This morning I found one caterpillar obviously still alive and one, seemingly dead, down on the soil in one of the pots. The weather was warmer today and the sun was shining this morning, so I carried the monarch rescue flat out to the back deck, putting it beside the remnants of the tropical milkweed that all of the caterpillars had started on.
Sometimes our best efforts just aren't enough.