Milkweeds and Monarchs

I love this tidy little plant, which is sending its silvery seed parachuting across our meadows this week. The Monarch butterfly larvae love it too, and feed on exclusively on it. Like other milkweeds, this one (Asclepius asperulacontains toxic cardiac glycosides that make the adult Monarch distasteful (phew!) to potential predators–an effective way to stay alive in a dangerous world. We have plenty of this lovely little plant in our pastures: cows won’t eat it, for the same reason that birds won’t eat Monarchs. It’s toxic. And it tastes bad.

This plant has healing properties, too: it’s been used to treat various lung ailments and as a tonic to strengthen the heart. I think about this when I see it sending its seed sailing into the sky. These days, we all need strong hearts–and just the sight of this little perennial gladdens mine. It’s a native inhabitant of the Texas Hill Country, truly at home in its small and very ordinary corner of the earth, as I aspire to be. And that, all by itself, is a healing thought, and I’m grateful.

You probably know that Monarchs are in serious trouble, and that the situation is likely to worsen. As a Monarch food, milkweed is indispensable, but as our wildlands are disappearing, so is this wild plant. For more information and seeds, check out this site.And here is information on planting and harvesting native milkweeds.

If you haven’t visited LifeScapes in the past couple of weeks, you may not know that I’m in the process of moving this blog to my new website. Please click on over and take a look. I’ll be double posting here and there for a while.

Reading note. Metamorphosis has always been the greatest symbol of change for poets and artists. Imagine that you could be a caterpillar one moment and a butterfly the next.–Louie Schwartzberg [Or a milkweed and then a caterpillar and then a butterfly!]

4 comments on “Milkweeds and Monarchs

  1. Thanks, Susan. I have recently noticed that 2 of our public spaces here in Maryville MO have milkweed plants (the taller, probably common, variety–they’re not blooming yet so I’m not positive) planted among some flowers, which is great. One is at the entrance to one of the ball fields, the other is at a planting area in front of Walmart. So people are trying, at least.

  2. Here in NW Missouri, we have plenty of common milkweed along the roadsides and as people have learned about the plight of the monarchs, many of us are trying to grow them in our yards and gardens. My mother loved those butterflies, and taught their life cycle to her 3rd graders, so since she died in 2001, I have a special fondness for these lovely butterflies and want to help keep them going. A few years ago I got some seed along the road near here, planted it that fall (it needs the freezing of winter) and had a couple of plants the next year. Now I have 10 or more, as they spread underground as well as by the seeds, and each year I have the pleasure of seeing the caterpillars, though I have yet to be able to actually see one change into a butterfly, as Mom and her students used to see in her classroom. Last year I planted some butterfly weed (the shorter form of milkweed plant which has bright orange flowers) and was amazed one evening to see it had 6 caterpillars on it. I’ve also been more focused on gardening for pollinators, these past several years. It’s never too late to learn.

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