Marvelous Milkweeds

Asclepias incarnata pods in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Asclepias incarnata pods (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

As a child, the pods of milkweed fascinated me.  To break them open and watch the silky seeds float through the air filled my mind with wonder and awe.  Where would these little flying seeds finally end up?  How far could they travel as they were carried along by the wind?  I imagined them landing in faraway places and popping up the next year to provide fun and entertainment to the children of those neighborhoods.  Even now, the dimpled teardrop shaped pods still amuse me. But, there’s more to the milkweed plant than just a curious pod . . .

Bees and butterflies flock to Milkweed's blossoms in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Bees and butterflies flock to Milkweed’s blossoms (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Ascelpias are widespread natives to the U.S. and a major food source for the monarch butterfly, as well as other native butterflies, hummingbirds, moths and insects.  In fact, the common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, is the host plant for the monarch butterfly, which is why it’s so important to preserve these areas for the stands to thrive.  Milkweed was named for the bitter milky white sap it produces when a leaf is bitten or removed from the stem.  While this distasteful sap is said to be toxic, it actually acts as a predatory repellant for the monarch caterpillars that consume it.  [Read more…]

Plight of the Monarch

Monarch butterfly in the garden in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Monarch butterfly snacking on native eupatorium (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Not a week has gone by that I haven’t read something about the devastating decline of the monarch butterfly.  At their peak in the mid 1990’s, the monarch’s overwintering population covered an estimated 45 acres of forest throughout central Mexico. According to the World Wildlife Fund, this winter’s total shrank to a below 2 acres, setting another record low.  Yet the life of our revered monarch has always been shrouded in mystery; despite decades of scientific studies, we still don’t fully understand how it migrates to the same location each year. [Read more…]

A Garden for All