By Ann Angel Eberhardt of Goodyear, Arizona

You never know what you’re gonna get in a packet of seeds. One packet labeled “Sunflowers,” brought home by my daughter last summer from the Dollar Tree, held a big surprise. She planted the brown seeds, which were about the shape and size of almonds, in seed-starting pots and eventually had a number of sprouts. In September, when she went on vacation, she brought the seedlings, now about two inches in height, to me, asking me to water them in her absence.

I placed the pots outdoors and over time some died and others thrived. After I repotted the plants into bigger containers and the leaves grew larger, I started to realize that they weren’t sunflowers at all! The flowers they eventually produced were clusters of tiny yellow and orange at the end of the stems.

By the time my daughter returned, three very handsome black-white-and-yellow striped caterpillars were busily munching away on the leaves! A Google search indicated that they likely were “queen caterpillars” (Queen Danaus gilippus), precursors to queen butterflies that closely resemble monarchs. Unlike monarchs, queens are abundantly common in the desert of central to southeast Arizona and west to California.

Google also identified the plant as a subspecies of milkweed (Aschepias curassavica) known by a variety of common names, such as tropical milkweed or butterflyweed. (I learned that this variety is not the best milkweed for butterflies because its growing schedule is not exactly in sync with the needs of the butterfly.)

A few more days passed and only one caterpillar remained. I could only guess a bird helped itself to a snack, so I covered the entire plant and caterpillar with netting. (Later, I read that queen caterpillars are highly carnivorous, so that may have caused the two to disappear.)

As time went by, I noticed that the remaining caterpillar had quit his voracious eating. Soon after, it attached itself to the netting with a silk pad and curled into a J-shape. A day or two later, in his place hung a tiny green-bean-like pupa (chrysalis) and there it remained for almost two weeks.

Then, on November 22, the chrysalis transformed into a stunningly beautiful butterfly! I found it just after it had emerged and was pumping fluid from the abdomen into its wings to expand them. It was probably a male because of a black spot on a vein on the top of its hindwing.

A day later, Mr. Butterfly appeared to be ready to leave so I removed the netting. He immediately flew around, lightly bumping into a tree and our house and landing on the ground. After a bit of rest, off he flew again into his newly found world. For me, his parting was bittersweet and I thanked this little beauty for the joy it brought us as we followed its complete metamorphosis. We could not have guessed what those “sunflower” seeds would produce!