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Swan plants are not a convenience food

Swan plants are not a convenience food

“Don’t throw those leftover swan plants away,” said Jacqui Knight, Community Liaison for the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust.

She was speaking in response to reports that many people are buying swan plants from garden centres – some plants no more than seedlings – so that the very hungry monarch caterpillars could eat the leaves.

“And then it seems that people throw the ‘stumps’ away, and go back to the garden centre to buy more!” she said. “Swan plants are perennials and will last a few years. Just give the stumps a few weeks to grow more leaves. Plant them in the garden for next year if you no longer have caterpillars.”

While the monarch butterfly originates in the Americas, the swan plant arrived in New Zealand from Africa. It is quite possible that the seeds came here by accident with the ‘floss’ which has been used for hundreds of years in cordage and as an alternative for kapok in life preservers, pillows and quilts.

“Mature swan plants can reach 2 or even 3 metres tall,” said Jacqui. “And when they are established you never need to buy another swan plant for your caterpillars. The seed will give you new plants every spring and the monarchs will be delighted!”

Some people are horrified when they buy plants at garden centres and find their caterpillars are dying.

“You can understand that retailers and growers won’t be able to sell their plants if they don’t have leaves on them,” she said. “But it is devastating for children when you buy plants that have been sprayed – and your caterpillars die. It’s great being confident that your plants are safe for caterpillars.”


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