Milkweed

Spring came and went so quickly! I was outside in the garden rather than inside writing, so this blog was sadly ignored. Now that summer is here and my garden just requires a bit of maintenance (weed pulling and fertilizing) I am ready to write! Today’s post is all about the milkweed.

Pollinators have been getting more attention lately and that’s great! What’s not great is that this attention is due to declining populations of these marvelous and critically important animals. As per usual, the cutest animals tend to get the most attention (think pandas and polar bears over toilet rats) and so most people have heard of our fair friend the monarch’s dilemma. The current sad state of affairs for these pretty little fellas is why you’ve likely heard of milkweed.

 

 

Monarchs in my yard summer 2016

Monarchs are amazing animals and you should definitely watch this documentary to see just how amazing they are. One fun fact, as they lie in their chrysalis transitioning from caterpillar to butterfly they literally turn to goo (no kidding!). Anyhow, I digress. Monarchs require milkweed for procreation as it is a host for their larva.

Milkweed is a perennial plant and there are over 100 species of it! Milkweed gets its common name due to the milky, white sap that will seep out of the plant if it is cut. Monarchs (and some other insects) lay their eggs on milkweed and milkweed alone. The milkweed then serves as breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the caterpillars as they grow strong and prepare to turn to goo en route to butterfly (milkweed, it does a body good). I’ve read that the milkweed is toxic and since that is all the caterpillars eat, it makes them a highly unappealing snack for predators.

There have been an ever increasing number of campaigns to get people to plant more milkweed in an effort to increase the number of butterflies. Many local garden clubs or other plant-centric non-profits will have milkweed giveaways to encourage people to plant more of these plants. Here in CoMo I currently have three different varieties of milkweed in my yard: common milkweed, marsh milkweed, and butterfly milkweed. Each of them has done very well with little maintenance and continue to propagate with no help from me. So go ahead, invite the butterflies to dinner by giving milkweed a chance in your yard!

Milkweed and monarch caterpillars spring 2017

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