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.
Butterfly Flower, Silkweed, Silky Swallow-wort, Virginia silkweed, Common Milkweed. These are all names for the same plant, known where I live in southern Canada as Common Milkweed. The only common aspect of this plant is that it can grow everywhere, even on a gravel driveway—as shown in the photo I took this weekend.
In recent years milkweed has gained attention as a plant to cherish if we want to continue seeing monarch butterflies. This is why I nickname it ‘Royal Milkweed’. Its leaves are monarchs’ cradle. Monarch butterflies carefully lay their eggs on the undersides of broad milkweed leaves so their progeny (caterpillars) may feed on the green flesh and white sap–no other food will do.
Milkweeds also flourish behind my garden, where every spring sprouts emerge from rhizome roots. Their perfume is intoxicating.
Milkweed flowers are amazingly beautiful–comparable in their complexity to orchid flowers (says Wikipedia).
Milkweed is a plant of many contrasts, some of which I have noted in these haiku:
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.
Each year has brought more milkweeds to my yard. At first, one or two appeared in the driveway. Last year, one or two grew behind the garden in front of the compost bin. This year, by the miracle of reseeding, a cluster grew.
This was originally a story about milkweed plants, but then I realized that it’s impossible to talk about milkweeds without mentioning the Monarch Butterfly. Most nature lovers will know that a few years ago alarm bells were sounded, as scientists realized that North American populations of monarch butterflies were drastically diminishing. Why? They pointed to a few causes: a lower supply of the monarch caterpillar’sonly sustenance: milkweed; neonic pesticides interfering with caterpillar development; and deforestation of the adult butterflies’ southern migratory destination, Mexico.
From this awareness, environmental organizations urged people to grow Milkweeds as they had been banished from roadways and killed off by herbicides in farmer fields. This is how I came to protect wild milkweeds near my home. It is a plant that fascinated me as a child, especially the milky substance that oozed out when you cracked a leaf and the silky threads bursting from the crispy pods in autumn. This summer, I grew to enjoy milkweed flowers. With them beside me every day in the garden, I was able to appreciate their sweet scent.
Monarch butterfly caterpillars can only eat milkweed leaves. This limited dietary regime, consisting of only one type of food, is called ‘monophagy’.Monarchs are brush-footed butterflies (Nymphalidae family) belonging to the subfamily of Milkweed butterflies (Danainae subfamily). There are about 300 species of Milkweed butterflies worldwide, in tropical Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America.
Here in poetic form is a monarch life story, told in Southern Canada, where third or fourth generation monarchs from down south arrive in early summer.
dancing Monarchs mate
great grandparent memories
under a brighter sun,
in warmer climes.
Orange brush foot union consummated,
the queen's destiny unfolds
her purpose known, yet unknown,
for a perfect bed,
only the finest of milkweed leaves
for her precious pearls.
Carefully she lays
her eggs here and there,
resting under many a milkweed leaf.
Wait,wait, and then they hatch
to mature, molt, and
sport yellow black stripes,
they are vegans
born to nibble
on their cradle,
never to stray,
sworn to monophagy,
progeny of Monarchs.
the feast is over
it's time to weave
a silky chrysalis,
a place for
A mysterious transformation.
A butterfly awakes,
Hangs out to dry,
Stretches fresh wings,
And flies away.
This is my vegetable garden’s 5th year–just as I thought I was catching on–mother nature supplied a new set of weather conditions. Every year I have tried to get seeds and transplants into the ground earlier, but this year I held back due to cold nights extending into June. I am not a great weather historian and don’t keep daily notes, but after the cold I recall a long wet spell followed by full force heat. And now, after a stretch of unusual coolness, we are in the middle of hot, foggy, humidity.
Fortunately I grow for only two people. So although the amount of some crops, such as zucchini and cucumber, was under average, I have supplies in the refrigerator and have made a few batches of both sweet and savoury zucchini breads, with probably more to come. I don’t do preserves so there is no disappointment there–I was thinking of exploring community donations, but that won’t happen this year.
The garden started to mature by late mid-August. The pictures I show below were all taken after the 20th; probably half were snapped on the 31st.
The bell peppers plants were more leafy than usual this year and a bit nibbled by the baby grasshoppers–which by the way, have multiplied and matured, and are currently hopping and flying all over the place. It’s the year of the grasshopper. These peppers can ripen into red peppers, but it may take a while. I harvested a nice collection last year, but I am not sure I will this year. If a green pepper shows any signs of ‘age’ or potential decay, I harvest it; I already have quite a few in the fridge.
The milkweed are maturing:
I planted two winter squash plants and only one good size squash has survived to date. Let’s hope I harvest it at the optimum moment. This one is on a vine that snuck in with the cherry tomato plants. I’m glad I let it roam.
On August 31, I discovered two renegade zucchini. No matter how closely I keep watch, they sometimes escape my notice and explode in size. The biggest one of the two late bloomers below, was 14 inches long and weighed 3.25 pounds.
Hidden Zucchini Before Harvest
Hidden Zucchini on Display after Harvest
As plants start to dry out and stop producing, new shoots and flowers continue to appear– makes me think of how even in physical old age we can blossom and show signs of youth and creativity. The flower below is on an ‘ancient’ bean plant.
Yellow dill flower heads brown and produce seeds that may be harvested or left to scatter in the wind. Dill plants can grow quite tall. This year they averaged 5′ with the tallest one soaring to just under 6′.
Coriander’s small white flowers become green seed balls, which mature to a brown color. The leaves harvested before this plant flowers are known as ‘cilantro’. I regret that the green balls are not in sharp focus–I tried.
Fortunately I am the only member of my household who can eat raw tomatoes–so the low crop of ripe cherry tomatoes is not a tragedy. The peak was on August 24 when I harvested 91. The picture below was taken a few days before the ‘peak’. If we have some warm sunny days in September, I may find more of these golden fruits.
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.
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Muse.”
The vegetable garden inspires me to pull out my iPhone and take a few pics to record its ever changing landscape. Two shots taken earlier today show wild milkweed that I have allowed to flourish behind the main garden. Why? to nourish and attract monarch butterflies, a threatened species. In the centre of the shot to the right you can see a sorrel plant. Besides being a perennial, one of those lovely plants that just appear in the spring, sorrel is a cross between a herb and a salad green. The leaves have a tangy lemony flavour, providing an accent to salads, soups, pestos, salad dressings, sauces and so on.
Here is another milkweed photo showing the newly formed pink bud clusters: