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The magnificent pods of the Asclepias tuberosa explode with seeds ready for planting.
The magnificent pods of the Asclepias tuberosa explode with seeds ready for planting. Photo by Xenia Mathieu
Columns Jano's Garden

Butterflies born among the rocks in Carlsbad

When I was a child, I gleefully chased fluffy dandelion puffballs across the fields with my friends in Northern Wisconsin. It was springtime, and the dandelions were in the final phase of their bloom scattering their progeny across the land.

Little did I know that someday I would be collecting the similarly airborne seeds of the milkweed plant (Asclepias tuberosa) across State Street in Carlsbad.

A seed is an entity so special and complex than most of us cannot explain its form and function. In the words of botanist Nancy Bubel, in her very comprehensive book, “The New Seed-Starters Handbook”:

“Seeds are completely self-contained. Within the boundaries of the hard, dry coat that protects them, they possess enough food energy to carry them through their dormancy and into their first few days as seedlings.”

So, what I did not know when I was 12 was that the little puffballs I was catching were soon-to-become dandelion plants. And the soft white airborne seeds popping out of the milkweed near the Village Rock Shop are soon-to-be full-grown plants in the shop’s garden, now being propagated in the shop’s yard.

Chris Bany, a local landscape designer and gardener, is working with Xenia Mateiu to transform her gift shop into a haven for butterflies in Carlsbad. The shop features local crystals and gems along with hand-made gifts, and last year had a few living visitors.

Xenia, owner of the Village Rock Shop, said she “was blessed with a wonderful natural event when I started growing butterflies.

“Everything started when we were struggling during COVID and we employed a gardener to improve our outdoor space. … Chris Bany taught us about the plants that butterflies are most drawn to and brought milkweed plants to the garden. … Soon the butterflies produced larvae, which made their way to the inside of our shop.

“We brought jars and branches into the store and the larvae ate the plant’s leaves, found a safe place to create their chrysalis and began their transformation.”

Xenia and her staff now plan to have many jars set up in her shop for the butterflies to metamorphosis, and Chris is hard at work producing more plants from the seed he has collected from the existing plants.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, “Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed, the only host plant for this iconic butterfly species. As such, milkweed is critical for the survival of monarchs. Without it, they cannot complete their life cycle and their populations’ decline.

“Indeed, eradication of milkweed both in agricultural areas as well as in urban and suburban landscapes is one of the primary reasons that monarchs are in trouble today.” 

You can visit the Village Rock Shop and see the little “milkweed nursery” in the yard at 2690 State Street, in Carlsbad, and check out the website at villagerockshop.com.

Bany’s landscape design work is on Instagram @carlsbadvillagegardens. According to Chris, “Our goal is to grow and distribute milkweed plants all over Downtown Carlsbad. That way, this spring the air will be full of Monarchs!”

For more information about choosing milkweed for your garden, and to learn more about the life cycles of these fascinating creatures, go to monarchjointventure.org and nwf.org/monarchs.

In the coming weeks, we will be exploring the process of choosing seeds for your vegetable garden and getting those seeds started.

In the meantime, order catalogs (yes, there are still companies that will send you hard copies!) from superseeds.com, seedsavers.org and botanicalinterests.com. And visit the website and YouTube channel for our very own local seed company, sandiegoseedcompany.com.

While dreaming of your spring garden, visit the local San Diego Master Gardener website at mastergardenerssandiego.org for free printed materials on cool-season vegetable crops and specific information on every vegetable you can imagine!

Stay tuned for more tips on how to plan and start your vegetable garden in the next few weeks. For further information, contact me at [email protected].

Jano Nightingale is a horticulturist and teaches gardening classes at the Carlsbad Senior Center. She is available for adult and children’s classes.

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