Where has all the milkweed gone? Poisoned by farmers, everyone.
Not only farmers, but homeowners, highway departments, park superintendents, school yard landscapers – all are in the milkweed eradication business. It’s a weed, you see, and it must go.
But take away the milkweed and you take away one of the most beautiful creatures that has ever graced this planet. Monarch butterflies. Without milkweed, they don’t exist.
I remember as a kid, there was milkweed everywhere. It grew those unusual pods – like the alien pods in The Body Snatchers. They were neat plants – drawing lots of bees, bugs and butterflies. And they are just about gone. I saw my first milkweed plant two weeks ago at Heritage Oaks Golf Course in Harrisonburg. It was flourishing in some thick rough where I hit my ball. That’s how I saw it.
There are multiple varieties of milkweed named for their latex, a milky substance. May species of milkweed are poisonous, so don’t eat any. The flower blooms in early summer, then comes the pod stage in August and September.
The milkweed leaves do their very best to keep the monarch larva from chewing on them. The plants have hairs on the leaves, the gooey latex stuff is a deterrent as well as the toxins. But the monarch caterpillars munch away. Then the caterpillars do the cocoon thing and emerge as butterflies before making their 2,500-mile migrations to Mexico.
Backyard gardeners need to plant milkweed, not kill it. It’s readily available at most garden supply stores. It’s an attractive plant, most of the time, and it nourishes a very attractive insect – the monarch butterfly.
Milkweed is another one of those plants with multiple uses. The small milkweed filaments (the floss) are hollow and have great insulation properties. During WW II, tons and tons of milkweed floss was gathered and used as a substitute for kapok. Today, is it used as a hypoallergenic filling for pillows and as insulation for winter coats. If you have a little room in your yard, plat some milkweed. The bees and the butterflies will thank you for it.