Monarch butterflies need Milkweed


Swamp Milkweed popping open and ready to flyIt is not fall, but the milkweed are blooming and I posted a photo from my phone of a monarch on milkweed, which started this conversation again, so I thought I would repost this from last fall.

The milkweed to the left is a swamp milkweed pod.  Smaller than a common milkweed.

It is time to harvest  ripe Milkweed pods full of seeds as they start to split.  We have two fairly large patches of Milkweed with smaller patches randomly growing in the unmowed areas of the property.  So far I have picked about 3/4 of a five gallon bucket, with many more to go.

My hubby asked me, “Why are you picking all those pods?  Where are you going to put them?”  I responded that I would give some of the pods away so others can have Monarchs visit them as well.  He noted that it was a statement of our nature that we had to harvest and sow milkweed at this point to have the Monarchs.

Milkweed has become less and less prominent in our surroundings as there are less and less farm land with fence rows and the farmers have such good herbicides to kill all the weeds growing around their crops.  I understand the need to keep the weeds from the crops, so those of us with gardens and yards need to take the place of the fence rows where milkweed was one of the prominent places to grow.

Why is Milkweed important to grow and keep around?  Well it is the ONLY plant that can support the Monarch Butterfly!!

Are you seeing less and less of the bright orange and black butterflies that fluttered around in the spring and then again in the fall?  That’s because the Monarchs are decreasing in numbers due to not having milkweed to support them.

Did you know that the Monarch Butterfly migrates to Mexico every winter?  Then in the spring they come north in a migration that passes through the middle of the United States, including Indiana.  The thing is the Monarch butterfly only lives three to fours weeks and its sole purpose is to breed, lay eggs, hatch into a caterpillar, curl up into a chrysalis then break out of that shell into a new Monarch butterfly.  They do this four or five times on their way north.  Then at their final destination in the fall, that last Monarch makes the full flight back to Mexico.  Some of them from as far north as Canada!  But Indiana is one of the final coming out for many who fly south for the winter.

How do they know they are supposed to do all of this?  It’s just inbred in them to repeat the cycle each and every year.

So what does the Milkweed have to do with all of this?  It is their ONLY plant of egg laying and caterpillar eating.  They must have milkweed to survive.

Milkweed is a tall plant standing 4 to 6 feet.  In the spring it has a beautiful cluster of pink blooms that smell really good.  All manner of bees and bugs love to help pollinate the clusters.  These clusters will them become the seed pods.  The seeds are attached to a very silky strands that when the pods burst open will fly away into the air and deposit the seed to grow.  milkweed are perennials and have a deep root system.  When the caterpillars come out the Milkweed will be eaten to the stalk.  If you are a neat gardener, you will want to plant it to the back of the flower beds and have taller flowers in front of it.  Good pairings for planting are Purple cone flower,   Black eyed Susan’s, Autumn Joy Sedum, Purple Gay Flowers, and zinnias.  Now zinnias are not a native or perennial.  They must be sown each year.  The seeds do not survive the winters here.  zinnias are native to Mexico.  But once you buy a few packs to sow and have blooms, let them dry then pick the heads and let them dry fully, rub seeds from the central cone, store for the winter and you will have more zinnias for next year.  If you do this each year, you won’t ever have to buy zinnias again and you will be blessed with more and more seeds each year.

There are many types of Milkweed.  I have four types on our property.  Common Milkweed, Swamp Milkweed, Sullivant’s Milkweed, and Butterfly weed.

The term “weed” by definition is something growing where you don’t want it to be growing.  These are tough natives and grew where the farmers didn’t want them, their fields, thus they have been named “weed”  The milk part comes because these plants have a milky substance that flows from their stems.  This “milk” is poisonous

So, do you have a spot where you can plant some Milkweed?  Here is a link to Monarch Butterfly support http://monarchwatch.org/waystations/

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Monarch butterflies need Milkweed

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