Friday, October 19, 2012

The Importance of Milkweed

I've heard that there are over 100 varieties of milkweed – and many of them are the host plant for the monarch butterfly.  Their common characteristics are the “milk” or white sap released when the plant is injured (or being eaten) and the seed pods that burst and disperse in downy puffs. 

I have several plants of the milkweed type known as “Tropical Milkweed” in my garden.  These are perennials that reseed themselves in my area – they have gorgeous, showy, orange and yellow blossoms and elongated leaves.
old photo of the plant before this year's buffet began
I grow them purely for the dining enjoyment of monarch butterflies (for the nectar) and monarch caterpillars (they devour the leaves until the stems are sticks).  The plants and leaves rebound rapidly after having been the entree on the caterpillar buffet.
But I have never seen so many caterpillars as this year - there were at least 5 within a 1 foot radius and one was less than ½ inch long – the smallest I’ve ever seen.  I had to rush out and locate a few more plants because they were munching so rapidly and I was afraid they would run out of food before they were ready to go into their chrysalis (pupa) stage!
they eat the flowers, too!
These caterpillars are truly eating machines.  They will chow down all day and when they feel stuffed too tightly, they will shed their skin and eat and grow some more!  Lynn Rosenblatt has a wonderful website that explains the entire life cycle of the beautiful monarch butterflies and the importance of the milkweed plant to their existence.  We need to heighten awareness and promote restoration of monarch habitats in our neighborhoods.  Please visit:

One note of caution – milkweed plants are poisonous to livestock.  Do not plant these if you live on a farm or have a pet that likes to chew!  Deer will stay away from them naturally.  And you will want to wash if the milky sap comes in contact with your skin as it can harm your eyes.   Just be careful …

Oh, and this is a boy monarch … the stem is almost in the way, but you can tell by the tiny black dots in the black lines on the butterfly’s lower wings – girls don’t have the dots.  True factoid!

Oh, and I did get some stars appliquéd onto the Americana top and added some borders – now on to quilting it!
the homespun doesn't photograph well as the
 plaid looks distorted, but it looks great in person!


Karen M said...

That's really interesting. I didn't realize the sap was harmful, so that's good to know. I have this in my gardens, but have never seen catapillars on it. And, you must have great eyes to spot the dots on that male butterfly. I'm going to be looking for them now.

The Quilting Elf said...

That info about the sap was new to me, too, so I thought I'd include it in the post. I've never had a problem, but better to be safe!

Thanks for your comment.