A monarch caterpillar’s magic meadow is the milkweed plant. Mother butterfly lays an egg on the underside of a leaf and the larva feeds on the milkweed plant, the only food it can eat.
When mature, the caterpillar migrates away from its milkweed to a high hidden spot where it transforms into a tiny green pupa or chrysalis. It is from this pod that a new butterfly will soon emerge.
As a species, monarch butterflies have been considered endangered for quite a while. This has in part been caused by human destruction of milkweed (directly and indirectly). In recent years increased protection and planting of milkweed has had a positive impact.
For a summary of the monarch butterfly life cycle and the crucial role of milkweed see mission-monarch.org.
Yesterday I featured the Monarch butterfly and its relationship to the milkweed plant. Today, I would like to share a series of milkweed pictures that I took from June to October of this year. The plant is beautiful, featuring broad strong leaves with a reddish vein going up the centre, aromatic pink flower clusters, slender green textured pods that turn brown and crack, revealing silky white filaments attached to brown teardrop seeds. All of this is documented in the photos below, but first I would like to indulge in a few words about milkweed and its ecology.
The milkweed genus, Asclepias, is named after the Greek God of healing, Asclepius, because of the healing properties of its milky sap. The sap is also toxic and is eaten by some animals, such as the monarch caterpillar, to ward off predators. Milkweed is not only propagated in the wind by white floss; it also multiplies by sending out underground rhizomes which sprout new plants (that’s why I have several plants growing next to each other). If you think of these plants as ‘weeds’, this could be a nuisance, but if you have embraced them as friends, this is excellent news.
Milkweed is a friend to many insects and plants. Some insects are completely dependent on milkweed as a food source. These would include monarch caterpillars, milkweed bugs, and milkweed leaf beetles. For an excellent photo of orange milkweed bugs, visit PrairieChat’s ‘Taste of Minnesota Fall’ photo collection. Milkweed nectar is sipped by butterflies, native bees, and wasps; and many animals, such as spiders, small birds, and mice use the plant as shelter. For more ecology details check out this milkweed profile.
I would like to thank Sylvain Landry of Sylvain-Landry.com, for the added incentive to publish this collection of photos, offered by his SL-Week 13: Ecology photo challenge, which closes in a few days.
In response to Cee’s June 29, 2015 Flower of the Day I am posting a picture of a milkweed flower that opened the day after I posted pictures for a June 27 weekly photo challenge (that post shows full milkweed plants with unopened buds).
The fragrance of the flowers is sweet and fills the whole area. I looked up the plant in a Peterson Wildflower Field Guide for Northeastern/Northcentral North America and discovered seven types of milkweeds! Funny how I had always assumed that a milkweed is a milkweed. The one shown in my pictures (the one above and in the previous post) appears to be a “Common Milkweed”. I guess “common” refers to the frequency of its occurrence rather than its lack of interest…as I find its clusters of tiny flowers to be quite exquisite.