You are probably wondering how anything with the word ‘weed’ in it could possibly be magnificent. For butterflies, bees and a host of other insects, milkweed is a major source of food. Of course, most gardeners know the importance of keeping such wild species of plants around. The more pollinators that you can get into your garden the better! I think that once you find out about milkweed you’ll agree that it truly is magnificent!
On one of our evening walks we stopped at a large mass of milkweed plants. The sun was low in the sky and rays of light were bouncing off of the plants leaves. The bees were buzzing in and out of the tiny pink blooms. They worked quickly as if in a hurry to finish before sundown.
The sweet scent of the flowers was heavy in the air on that warm evening. We searched for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. There were none to be found. Just the bees and a Japanese beetle or two.
Every time after that we searched for the butterfly larvae only to find nothing.
Each year at our local library, the children’s librarian raises many Monarch butterflies in jars for the children. Some years ago she was able to find some to grow in the wild. Last summer she couldn’t find any. After contacting a Monarch butterfly organization, she was able to obtain a quantity of larvae. Each child that signed up named their caterpillar. As the days and weeks went by the larvae would one by one form the ‘j’ shape and start the process of metamorphosis. When we stopped at the library we had to check on ‘Rockland’ or this year the name of choice was ‘Snake’. This year our little guy didn’t make it but our dear librarian found some in the wild to use as replacements.
One day, we got the call that our morphed butterfly was ready to be released. The library has a dreamy little garden in it’s front courtyard. There we let our female Monarch butterfly ‘Snake’ go. She didn’t take off immediately. She flitted around the library garden with a male butterfly. Landing on hot pink zinnias, tall verbena and prickly purple cone flowers. The late afternoon sun made the whole occasion quite serene. One of the butterflies landed on my sons arm and stayed a while. Finally we let them be. Leaving them so that they could start their long journey southward.
Benefits of Growing
Do you have room to allow some wild milkweed to grow on your land? If you do, you will be providing much needed food for the Monarch population as they stop to take in nourishment along the way. Many native plants are being removed from modern landscapes. By supporting native plants and allowing them to thrive, pollinators have a steady supply of food. Farmers are encouraged to leave large shafts of land for native plants to support the very pollinators that are responsible for pollinating much of our food sources. One third of it to be exact! Truly magnificent.
How to Grow
If you already have a stand of milkweed near your house, little needs to be done to keep it going. In fall, the seed pods will mature and a multitude of seeds will come out of them. Equipped with their own parachute of sorts, the wind will simply carry the seeds to a quiet resting place where the seeds can take hold. This is how the plant reseeds itself on it’s own.
Starting a new patch is quite easy. Seeds and even plant plugs are available through mail order or online. Seeds grow best after going through stratification or a cooling process. Normally they will go through this process outdoors. It is possible to speed this up. “Place seeds into a container of moist soil, cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate for at least 3 weeks.”-Growing Milkweed. Milkweed does not like to be moved once planted.
The most common milkweed variety in the New England area is Asclepias syriaca. There are many attractive cultivated types that are useful in borders and perennial beds. We have Asplepias tuberosa that makes a dazzling orange show in our July garden. Bees and butterflies alike flock to this plant. Because it is derived from a wildflower plant, it is also drought tolerant. For more ideas for attracting pollinators go here. I even came across a native pollinator preserve called Peaked Mountain Farm in Dedham, Maine.
If you happen to do any clearing this fall, take notice if you have any milkweed plants. Collect seeds or cast more in other areas if you wish. Maybe next year you will find a few Monarch caterpillars! All because you grew magnificent milkweed!
The gardens here are pretty much demolished after recent high winds and rain. Trees are down everywhere. Many lost power and are still without it. We only lost it for a day so no complaints here. It’s always a good lesson to stay prepared for anything that might come our way. Keep those flashlights ready and some gas for the generator. The weather has now taken on the familiar chill of fall. Feels normal now after an above average fall. The smell of wood smoke drifts through the air at night and blaze orange is the color of the month. Thanks for stopping by Everlongardener this week! Don’t forget to subscribe below for weekly seasonal gardening info.