Even if you are only an armchair naturalist, you may have heard of a plant called Milkweed. Why? I don’t think it’s because plants, especially those that are often referred to as weeds, really rate with the general public. However, Milkweed is special because it’s integral in the survival of the Monarch butterfly and who doesn’t love a butterfly? I took the next photo of Illinois’ state butterfly, the Monarch, last August (2020.) I believe the plant is Swamp Milkweed.
I snatched the following quote from the National Wildlife Federation website: “Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed, the only host plant for this iconic butterfly species. As such, milkweed is critical for the survival of monarchs. Without it, they cannot complete their life cycle and their populations decline.”
We have naturally occurring milkweed all around our property. Later this summer I will hopefully see many lovely Monarch butterflies flitting about, taking advantage of the nectar that the clover and many other wildflowers provide. But, that single species isn’t the only beneficiary of the Milkweed plant. Typically, when I film the flora around the property, it’s only after I download the images and view them on a larger monitor that I become privy to all of insects and other critters that use the plants during their life-cycles.
Here’s a series of images I shot a couple of days ago near the pond. At the upper left, you’ll find a pair of red beetles (I think they are Red Milkweed beetles) having a bit of sexy-time. There’s another orange and brown beetle couple (I believe are Pennsylvania Leatherwing Beetle – an aphid eating insect) having an interlope near the bottom of the center bloom. A Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly (I hope I got the ID correct) is feasting on nectar while a bee (which I think is a Carpenter bee) sits just below the butterfly harvesting nectar as it offers pollination duties, as well. You might also notice that the most prominent leaf of the Milkweed plant has been consumed by, perhaps, a very hungry Monarch caterpillar.
Those photos were all taken on the same plant within in a few minutes. Just imagine how many other species utilize various parts of the Milkweed plant during their life cycle!
When filming this lovely plant and the animals it supports, I realized that the blooms are in various stages of development. That extends the support this plant provides to the fauna in the area over a longer period of time. And, when you look at it, it’s an absolutely beautiful flower (comprised of what appears to be many smaller individuals flowers.) While it may be referred to as a weed to many, I am surprised it isn’t used as a cultivar more often. It would make a lovely addition to almost any garden.
Please let me share with you more images of this highly valuable wild flower that I captured around our property. Perhaps it will inspire you to plant a few of these beauties at your home. In doing a bit of research, I learned that there are around a 100 native species of milkweed in North America. I believe the species in these photos is Common Milkweed.
One final note: I discovered that it’s easy to purchase seeds or plants of this perennial plant from Etsy to Amazon, on-line Nurseries and of course retail nurseries including some of the large home improvement centers!