Milkweed–It should be called Monarch Milkflower

IMG_1321Not last night, but the night before, when we had that gorgeous full moon, I was pleasantly surprised to find these little moths on my milkweed plant. I know it’s a weed, but it’s an important one, so much so that many gardeners are starting to not only let this weed grow, but encourage it. It’s the food plant of the Monarch butterfly larva, which is near and dear to a lot of people, probably because they are easy to make into summer pets that, with a little care, put on a spectacular transformation that’s easy to anticipate and be right there for.

Their migration from Mexico takes all summer, spanning generations to reach their northernmost reach here where I live. How the final ones know to go back to Mexico to overwinter is amazing. But their numbers are dwindling in part due to the pesticides that have been genetically engineered INTO THE CORN WE EAT. Yep, our corn is genetically engineered to be toxic to insects, and has been for a while. So instead of having to apply poison to the field, the plant produces it itself. Even the pollen is toxic, and when the wind blows, it goes everywhere and has been proven to kill Monarch larva. (The corn has been labeled safe to eat, but I’m left wondering about the long-term effects, especially on the unborn who are still developing their neural systems. Even if the corn is safe, the pollen is still blowing around, right?) http://news.cornell.edu/stories/1999/04/toxic-pollen-bt-corn-can-kill-monarch-butterflies

So I let my milkweed grow. I’m not the only one, and patches of it are popping up in gardens everywhere in my little town where the sun hits hot and strong. This is the first year that my plants have flowered, and though I’ve not seen any Monarchs, I did see these little white moths on a night with a huge, full moon. I’ve not seen a Monarch for a few years now. Maybe someday I’ll have Monarchs again. I’ll be ready.

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25 Comments

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25 responses to “Milkweed–It should be called Monarch Milkflower

  1. Teresa Niedzwiecki

    Hi Kim, Looking at tour dates and very sad to see no Boston date,Is there still a possibility? Best of luck,Teresa

  2. Gerry Sheldon

    As a Brit I don’t think I have ever seen milkweed, which I believe is native, in its various forms, to the USA. However I have powerful memories of Lois McMasters Bujold’s heroine, Fawn, in the first book of the Sharing Knife series, recollecting it when Dag, the hero, tries to help her cope with the sorrow, pain and injury she is suffering, when they are sheltering up after an encounter with a “Malice” that steals the life of her two month unborn child:

    He lowered his lips toward her ear, nestled in the black curls, and murmured, “Think of something beautifully useless.”

    Her face came up, and she sniffed in confusion. “What?”

    “There are a lot of senseless things in the world, but not all of them are sorrows. Sometimes—I find—it helps to remember the other kind. Everybody knows some light, even if they forget when they’re down in the dark. Something”—he groped for a term that would work for her—“everyone else thinks is stupid, but you know is wonderful.”

    She lay still against him for a long time, and he started to muster another explanation, or perhaps abandon the attempt as, well, stupid, but then she said, “Milkweed.”

    “Mm?” He gave her another encouraging hug, lest she mistake his query for objection.

    “Milkweed. It’s a just a weed, we have to go around and tear it out of the garden and the crops, but I think the smell of its flowers is prettier than my aunt’s climbing roses that she works on and babies all the time. Sweeter than lilacs. Nobody else thinks the flower heads are pretty, but they are, if you look at them closely enough. Pink and complicated. Like wild carrot lace gone plump and shy, like a handful of bitty stars. And the smell, I could breathe it in…’’ She uncurled a little more, unlocking from her pain, pursuing the vision. “In the fall it grows pods, all wrinkled and ugly, but if you tear them open, beautiful silk flies out. The milkweed bugs make houses and pantries of them. Milkweed bugs, now, they aren’t pests. They don’t bite, they don’t eat anything else. Bright burnt-orange wings with black bands, and shiny black legs and feet…they just tickle, when they crawl on your hand. I kept some in a box for a while. Gathered them milkweed seeds, and let them drink out of a bit of wet cloth.” Her lips, which had softened, tightened again. “Till one of my brothers upset the box, and Mama made me throw them out. It was winter by then.”

    “Mm.” Well, that had worked, till she’d reached the tailpiece. But nonetheless her body was relaxing, the lingering shudders tamping out.

    Unexpectedly, she said, “Your turn.”

  3. Hi, Kim. My author/blogger friend Marilyn Armstrong sent me a link to your post. Hurray for you. I support monarch butterflies and encourage milkweed to grow in my garden. I’ve even written a butterfly book. It’s so encouraging to know that they’re are many of us us out here spreading the news about GMOs and they’re adverse effects on insects (especially our pollinators. Shared your post and following your blog. THANKS! 🙂 Bette

  4. Becki V.

    I love Milkweed. Thinking of Rachel Morgan the other day when I saw this huge dandelion wire garden art.
    http://www.fantasywire.co.uk/sadandelionfairydetail.html

  5. I didn’t know that Milkweed was a Monarch food source. Makes me glad that there are a lot of wild fields up here in Ontario. I remember growing up in NH and running through hoards of Monarchs but my youngest now is surprised to see one. We have been planting as many nectar plants as we can in our tiny yard to bring in the bees and other pollinators.

  6. Thanks for the info Kim! I knew about GMOs but had NO IDEA about the toxic pollen and its effects. Thanks for also letting people know about Milkweed, anything to help the beauty of nature along it’s (oft embattled 😦 ) way. p.s. I know you’ve heard it a million times, but I ADORE your work! 😀 Jamy

  7. SquidgeWA (aka JKH)

    “Weeds are merely misplaced wildflowers,” according to George Washington Carver, I think. Fireweed, milkweed, etc. are a lovely part of nature. I’m less fond of bindweed, an invasive vine with creamy trumpets with a touch of pink in the bottom, mistakenly called morning glory. D@rn stuff can overwhelm a hedge, a house…

  8. I let the Milkweed grow in my garden every year. The Monarchs love it and we have them yearly. I refuse to use pesticides here on our property so they seem to love it here..The flowers are beautiful and they have the most fabulous odor to them…Like plant perfume…

  9. Missy Moo

    Awesome post Kim.
    W are losing all our pollinators. Butterflies, bats and bees.
    Also note, all soy in the USA, is now also all gmo. A lot of rice is too , and wheat is a mere shadow of what it used to be. Don’t eat processed foods is the moral of the story, check what’s gmo, and what is not.

  10. SquidgeWA (aka JKH)

    (sigh) Corn, like wheat, in the “standard” American diet, is everywhere. The only way to avoid GMO corn is to buy organic everything. It’s a little hard on the food budget for the low income, but I understand that if we DO NOT buy it, “they” will eventually stop producing it — referring to GMO foodstuffs.

  11. Vampyre

    So when the turn actually happens, it will be corn instead of tomatoes that brings it on? Good by pop corn hello pasta sauce.

  12. Ashley

    I live in Indiana and I have not seen a Monarch butterfly for a long time. I think a few years ago I saw one. Just one, and my reaction was like I had witnessed a miracle. I have seen more little white butterflies around though… and a few more bees this year than I have seen in the past. I really wish people would realize that this problem has been building up for a while and we are just now starting to see the decline in many insects that we actually need to help our crops and other plants survive. Of course, there will always be people who think that genetically modified crops and other things are completely safe and that we are all crazy for thinking otherwise… but I have my doubts about them and wonder how long it will take for even more problems to start showing up in the future generations due to these GMO’s. When they do show up I’m sure there will be a good story about how they had no idea something like that could happen.

    I’m glad you are doing your own part to help keep around the plants that are essential to the Monarchs. I really miss seeing them all the time and I hope one day they will come back.

  13. silvermitt

    Now you know why the rest of the world has generally banned “GMO craps,” unlike the USA. No man is an island is so true on many, many levels. When enough people in power finally find their ba**s to actually fight this monstrosity pretending to be edible, it’ll probably be too late. It is our future that is risked and destroyed, we all know it. But those who prize only the immediate profits of today are the ones who have power and money and they generally don’t care if they throw their mothers under a 6 ton bus, as long as it’s profitable for them.

    The kids and I watched painted lady butterflies evolve and let them loose about a week ago. The red stuff that looked like blood was actually butterfly poop. We, the kids and I, all got pooped on by our grateful guests (G!).

  14. old72jim

    Hi Ms. Kim as long as they don’t scream in your ear, like the bluejays that hang around my feeder. They are both loud and raucus.

    • old72jim

      I I don’t think raucus is the word I want, but I can’t think of one that combines screeching and rusty grind They sound like an old door hinge.

    • SquidgeWA (aka JKH)

      We had Stellar’s “blue” jays in my dad’s neighborhood. Yes, I would say their voices are raucus. They are so vivid against the evergreens!

  15. Sally

    I’m so happy you allow milkweed to grow in your garden. The monarch butterflies winter near we live in Northen California and every year we marvel at the numbers in the eucalyptus trees. This past winter the numbers were so few, it was heartbreaking. I truly wish everyone would understand the terrible impact GMO crops have on our environment.

  16. I’ve planted milkweed seeds in my garden this year hoping to get some.

  17. Michelle Walters

    In California they sold milkweed in the garden dept at Home Depot. The Monarchs were already laying eggs on the plants in the store!
    A couple of the women who do gardening at the San Juan Capistrano Mission bought for the garden there. And alot of locals.

  18. Karen M

    I’ve got a red milkweed I bought years ago (I’m in S FL so they do last) and 2 yellow milkweeds my son got me for Mother’s Day. Had 2 monarch caterpillars on the yellow ones very soon after planting. Love them. Lots of butterflies in my yard but only the occasional monarch.

  19. Martin

    Thank you for caring about the little creatures. I would not be surprised to find out that the corn we eat turns out to be toxic to us. Corporate America hasn’t figured out that if the insects die, we die. I don’t know if knowing that would be enough to stop them, though…. (no smiley face on this one)

  20. Brenda M

    I’ve seen one monarch this year on my neighbor’s large patch of coneflower-zinnia-daisyish flower patch.

    I have planted a couple of patches of milkweed this spring in hopes of nurturing monarchs and lots of butterfly friendly plants.

    The black swallowtails seem very fond of my asparagus this and and last year. I let my broccoli flower and the cabbage whites love them.

    Yep, still waiting for the butterfly take over in my backyard.

  21. Brenda kahn

    That is a cabbage butterfly. They are the first to show up. I live in ga. Our season is a lot earlier than yours. Just this week I have seen the first Monarches in my garden. They are all on the Zinnias. Are yours blooming yet? Keep an eye out they are heading your way.

    • Hi Brenda. No, not a cabbage butterfly. The antenna are feathery, making them a moth, and they are only about the size of my pinky nail. Tiny. Not to mention they were flying at night. That’s great you have Monarchs. I hope they reach Michigan soon.

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