Tag Archives: common milkweed

BEST MILKWEED TO PLANT FOR MASSACHUSETTS GARDENS, MEADOWS, FIELDS, AND DUNE RESTORATION

Friends often ask, and I cover this topic extensively in my Monarch programs, “What is the best milkweed to plant in our region?” Without a doubt, the two most important and productive are Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).

Marsh Milkweed also goes by the name Swamp Milkweed, but Marsh sounds so much more appealing, don’t you think? Milkweeds already have the suffix weed attached to their names. To some folks any wildflower that includes the word weed seems invasive, and we don’t want to frighten people from planting our sweet native wildflowers by inferring they are a swamp dweller, too.

Gallery of Marsh Milkweed

When a weed is not a weed  – It’s unfortunate that so many of our native beauties end in “weed.” Ironweed, Joe-pye Weed, Sneezeweed, Thimbleweed, Butterfly Weed, and Milkweed are just some examples. Why were these native wildflowers at one time long ago named “weed.” Because the earliest colonists brought from their home countries flowering plants that were beloved and familiar to them, delphiniums and larkspurs, for example. In their new American home gardens, these treasured European plants would have been easily overtaken by our more vigorous American wildflowers.

To return to the topic of milkweed, Common Milkweed spreads by both underground and by seed. It’s ideal for dunes, meadows, and fields. Marsh Milkweed is more clump forming and stays relatively close to where you plant it. You can control how much it spreads by deadheading, or not, before the seed heads turn to fluff and sail away. I grow both Marsh Milkweed and Common Milkweed side-by-side. In our garden, the female Monarch does not discern the difference between the two species of milkweeds, she will flit from one to the other, and back again, depositing her eggs all along the way.

Gallery of Common Milkweed

By the way, both A. syriaca and A. incarnata are also the easiest milkweeds to grow in Massachusetts.

A ten-year nation-wide study was recently published. Across the country, Marsh and Common proved to be the most productive, in other words, more eggs were laid on these two species than on any other species of milkweed.

The map provided below is somewhat helpful; I write somewhat with a word of advice. If you click on Massachusetts, for example, not only are Common and Marsh Milkweeds listed but also Purple Milkweed (A. pupurascens), Fourleaf Milkweed (A. quadrifolia), Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa), Poke Milkweed (A. exaltata), Whorled Milkweed (A. verticillata), and Clasping Milkweed (A. amplexicaulis). We grow a nice patch of Whorled Milkweed and I have never, ever seen a Monarch once visit the foliage or flowers. Purple Milkweed can be very challenging to get started, and Butterfly Weed is not as hardy in our region as are Common and Marsh.

Milkweeds are the only food plant for Monarch caterpillars and also provide nectar to a host of pollinators including many, many species of butterflies, bees, beetles, and even hummingbirds. Plant for the pollinators and they will come!

This is an image from my recent adventure to Cerro Pelon. I am dying to write about the trip, but have had a very full schedule finishing up my film, organizing landscape jobs for the season, and hoping to get the PiPls settled in. The Monarchs in the photo are mud-puddling. Tens of thousands leave the butterfly trees during the heat of the day, sucking up water and much needed nutrients from the mud at nearby mountain streams

HIGHER NUMBERS GIVE HOPE FOR MONARCHS

By Kim Smith

January 31, 2019

The World Wildlife Fund Mexico and Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) announced on January 30th that this year the Monarch Butterfly population has increased significantly.

Each year the orange and black winged beauties return to the oyamel fir and pine tree forests, which are located in the heart of Mexico’s trans volcanic mountain belt. In December and January, Lepidoptera population specialists and citizen scientists measure the area the Monarch colonies cover at their over wintering sites. This year (2018-2019) the butterflies are blanketing 6.05 hectares (approximately 15 acres), up from an all-time low of only 0.67 hectares (1.65 acres) during the winter of 2013-2014.

Not since 2006-2007 has this great an area been covered by the butterflies, although the numbers are still quite low when compared to the numbers recorded in the late 1970s when the butterfly’s winter roosts were first discovered by Dr. Fred Urquhart.

I have been following the butterfly counts around the US as they were reported. The Monarch population has been decimated in California. This year only about 30,000 butterflies were counted, down from several million just two decades ago. There is the very real possibility that the Monarch butterfly will become extirpated (extinct from an area) on the West coast. The winter count is down drastically in Florida as well.

It was clear though that east of the Rockies–the Midwest and Northeast regions of the US, as well as southern provinces of Canada–there were many more Monarchs in gardens and on the wing than in recent previous summers.

Leading Monarch scientists are reluctant to become excited about the increase, and justifiably so. Last spring the weather was slightly cooler in Texas, which allowed more Monarch eggs to hatch, which in turn allowed more caterpillars to mature. A greater number of butterflies emerged and set the stage for a strong breeding season throughout the summer. That scenario, along with the overall good weather during the summer of 2018, also helped create ideal conditions. It was a true “goldilocks” summer, not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

In autumn of 2018, the Monarchs arrived to Mexico about a week later than usual, but once they began to arrive, a kaleidoscope of butterflies poured into their winter roosting grounds.

The 2018-2019 Eastern population count is a reprieve from the past ten years of heartbreaking news, but one good year does not change what the butterflies need most, which is protection for the Monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.

Monarch and Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)

There is disagreement among scientists whether planting milkweed has any bearing on the health of the Monarch butterfly population. Does creating corridors of Monarch habitat help mitigate the death and destruction caused by climate change, modern agricultural practices, the devastating use of pesticides and herbicides, and the planting of GMO crops (corn, sorghum, and soybeans, for example) that were engineered to withstand the deadly poisons, but which wildflowers and caterpillars cannot?

Monarch Butterflies and New England Aster, Gloucester, 2018

I think the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Monarchs are a bellwether species. The love for this one butterfly has helped to shape a consciousness towards all species at risk. An uncomplicated stand of milkweed and asters can make every public walkway, park, community center, church, school, and backyard a haven for Monarchs and together we can bring about a conservation victory for the pollinators.

Tightly Packed Cargo Ready to Sail

Milkweed seedpods in the afternoon sun

SNAPSHOTS FROM PATTI PAPOW’S MAGICAL BUTTERFLY GARDEN

Photos from a recent visit to friend and East Gloucester resident Patti Papows delightful in-every-way butterfly and pollinator garden

Snowberry Clearwing Moth

Although I was only able to visit for a few hours, it was wonderful to see all that she has planted for the pollinators, and as a result, all the pollinators drawn to her garden. You could spend a week in Patti’s garden and not see everything. The afternoon I was there, the deep magenta red butterfly bush was in full glorious bloom and was the star pollinator attractant of the day. Snowberry Clearwing Moths, Tiger Swallowtails, Monarchs, Catbirds, Robins, Bumble Bees, Honey Bees, and every other winged creature in the neighborhood was enjoying sweet nectar and the fruits from Patti’s blossoms. Bees and butterflies love variety and in a garden as richly planted as Patti’s, everyday is a party for the pollinators!

I am looking forward to returning to Patti’s garden when the Morning Glories are in full bloom 🙂

THANKS TO A CANADIAN CHEMICAL ENGINEER, A VERMONT ACADEMIC AGRONOMIST, RISK-TAKING FARMERS, AND VISIONARY CLOTHING COMPANY FOR A FABULOUS NEW USE FOR MILKWEED

What’s old is new again!

Common Milkweed (Ascleipias syriaca) is the essential food plant for populations of the Northeastern and Atlantic coast Monarchs. During Colonial times, the silky floss found in the dried seed heads was used to stuff quilts and pillows. In the 1860s, in Salem Massachusetts, Common Milkweed silk was used as a mattress filling.

During WWII, Common Milkweed became the substitute for kapok, a soft cottony material from the kapok tree that was the preferred filling for life vests. Japan cut off the supply of kapok from Java, the main source of the material, and part of the wartime effort included children sent to fields to gather millions of pounds of Milkweed seed heads for the armed services.

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not been discovered.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

An innovative Canadian clothing manufacturer, the Quartz Company and Altitude Sports, has created the first modern insulated jacket using milkweed silk. Hundreds of acres of Common Milkweed have been planted in Vermont and Quebec. Particularly noteworthy is that the fields of Milkweed are not harvested until after the Monarchs have left.

READ THE STORY HERE  

Milkweed Silk and Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis

WWII Common Milkweed photos courtesy Google image search.

LOOK WHAT PATTI PAPOWS MADE FOR SUNDAY’S MILKWEED SEED DISTRIBUTION EVENT!!

Thank you to Patti Papows for putting together these utterly charming pouches of milkweed seeds for our event tomorrow. We also have loads of milkweed pods and Joe-Pye seeds to distribute so come on down to Captain Joe’s dock Sunday morning from 10:30 to noon. We hope to see you there!

Captain Joes is located at 95 East Main Street, Gloucester.

To donate toward the completion of my documentary film Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, please visit the film’s website at www.monarchbutterflyfilm.com

COMMUNITY MILKWEED SEED POD PROJECT FOR THE POLLINATORS!

MILKWEED SEED COLLECTION AND DISTRIBUTION PROJECT SUNDAY OCTOBER 15TH

Collect ripe milkweed seed pods (only Common Milkweed and Marsh Milkweed please). Place in a paper bag, not plastic, as plastic can cause the seed pods to become damp and moldy.

Bring seedpods to Captain Joe and Sons on Sunday morning between 10:30 and noon. Captain Joes is located at 95 East Main Street, East Gloucester.

If you’d like to distribute seeds, meet at the dock between 10:30 and noon and I will show you what to do.

NOTE: It is easy to tell when milkweed seedpods are ripe. The seeds inside turn brown. Do not collect the pods when the seeds are white or green. If you pick them too soon, they will never be viable. You can check the seed pods by slitting the pod a tiny bit and peeking inside.

Any questions, please comment in the comment section or email me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com. Thank you and I hope to see you Sunday morning!

To learn more about how you can help fund the documentary Beauty on the Wing and the Monarch Butterfly Film Online Fundraising event, please visit the film’s website at monarchbutterflyfilm.com.