Thursday, July 3, 2014

Common Milkweed

With the great migration of Monarch butterflies in serious danger of becoming extinct, I knew I needed to have milkweed in my new garden.  I started seeds, ordered seedlings, and ended up with a few dozen milkweed plants clustered around the garden.   Apparently I didn't need to worry so much about planting milkweed - while exploring the back wild edge of our property, I found that Mother Nature had beaten me to the punch!

cluster of milkweed flowers, starting to bloom
I found an entire stand of Asclepias syriaca, otherwise known as Common Milkweed, in my back yard.


The pollinators were in love.

I'm just going to lie here and drink some nectar...
I had never smelled Common Milkweed flowers before.  Beautifully fragrant, they smell like lilacs to me.


The nickname of Common Milkweed shows how plentiful it used to be.  This plant was considered a terribly fast-growing, hard-to-control weed by farmers (and still is, oftentimes).  


One of the few herbicides that works on it is glyphosate (known often under the brand Roundup), which one of the reasons why Roundup-ready crops were so welcome by farmers.  Finally this weed and many others could be easily gotten rid of with what (at the time) seemed like minimal impact on the environment...


In 1996, 3% of corn and 7.4% of soybeans grown in the US were herbicide-tolerant.  By 2013, 85% of corn and 93% of soybeans were herbicide-tolerant, much of it grown in the Midwest, the corridor of Monarch migration.  Of course, the increase in herbicides led to a sharp decline of milkweed...


...which led to a sharp decline in the population of Monarch butterflies.  I'm sure other wildlife populations are affected, as well (and we won't even go into the evolution of Roundup-resistant weeds that are now spreading.)

Skipper butterfly on Milkweed
It is interesting how many plants we think of as weeds, really turn out to be important in the ecosystem.


A noxious weed to farmers that invades their crops and can affect their livelihood?  A necessary plant to survival for a butterfly?  It is hard to strike balance when talking about this one small but impactful plant, but it certainly can't be healthy to lose such large numbers of wildlife.


So I will do a little gardener's dance at the fact that I have Common Milkweed weeding it up in the back yard and plant a few more milkweed seedlings in the front.  I haven't seen any Monarchs yet..


...but I want to be ready for them and any other native wildlife that might need a helping hand.

19 comments:

  1. Thank you for doing your part in the north. I'm trying to do the same in the south. My common milkweed doesn't have wide leaves like yours. Did you notice the bloom in the first photo? It looked like a little angel holding a bouquet of flowers.

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    1. Interesting, I didn't notice! I think a lot of home gardeners are growing milkweed to help out the monarchs this year, thankfully!

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  2. Your photographs are beautiful Indie. Maybe the butterflies arive later in summer than the bees? I look forward to your butterfly photographs.

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    1. I think so - I've only recently begun seeing the big butterflies. I have heard reports of a couple Monarchs in the area, so they are coming!

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  3. I love the fragrance of common milkweed - it's so rich and sweet! I think the flowers are quite attractive, too, especially with pollinators enjoying them! I enjoyed your post, especially the nice array of flowers. How lucky to find a healthy patch of common milkweed already on the property!

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    1. The milkweed smelled so wonderfully! I don't find the leaves very attractive, but the flowers are really pretty/

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  4. Fabulous close-ups! And go you...saving the world! :-)

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  5. Oh thank you! What a lovely flower! Your pictures are stunning!
    All my best from Austria
    Elisabeth

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  6. I am with you Indie...I love having this incredible plant actually in my garden and meadow...Nature brought it to my pond garden and I have kept it...and the smell is wonderful isn't it!

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    1. Yesterday I saw four bees and a Fritillary butterfly on just one cluster of blooms, they love it so much! They probably just all followed that wonderful smell!

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  7. I can attest to the decline in milkweed--I used to have to pull it out of my dad's beanfields where it was as thick as ...well, weeds. Nowadays, you rarely see it. I planted some swamp milkweed seeds last winter, but I haven't seen any signs of them yet. One of my neighbors has a roadside for wildlife, though, that is thick with common milkweed. I think I may just gather a few seeds there and try again next year.

    Saw the first Monarch here on Thursday--on my coneflowers!

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    1. Yay for a Monarch! I've heard a couple reports of them here in my area. I saw an orange butterfly fly by my window a couple days ago, but I'm not sure if it was a Monarch or Fritillary. I hope your neighbor finds lots of monarch caterpillars on his milkweed!

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  8. Lovely photos, I hope the butterflies come in plenty to your garden :-)

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  9. Thank you for the in depth view of this milkweed. I am sure before we began to interfere with nature there was no such thing as a weed. We have various kinds of milkweed here and they all have very interesting flowers. The land around us is to poor to grow corn so maybe ours is less affected.

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    1. Back when, people probably thought 'weeds' were the most useful things! Many are edible and very nutritious. And reading about milkweed, people used to use it for all sorts of stuff! Carl Linnaeus actually named the genus after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, because of the many folk-medicinal uses for milkweed plants. And even recently milkweed was grown to use as a hypoallergenic filling for pillows!

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  10. All your critters show how important this plant is to many. I have been planting it in the parks and even without my help the milkweed is getting numerous. I keep checking for Monarch eggs and caterpillars, but am not finding any. I did see many Monarchs this year, but they must have moved on into Ontario. I so hope they rebound. The other day, a guy that lives in Niagara Falls brought over his Monarch caterpillars he is raising just to show me. He ran out of milkweed because he said they eat it too fast. So I went an picked some for his "babies".

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