A Meditation on Milkweed

     I have been concerned for some time about milkweed.  This humble plant, the sole food source for monarch butterfly larvae, is in decline thanks to land clearing and pesticide use.  A reduction in available milkweed is one reason the beautiful monarch butterfly’s numbers have also diminished.  Since I learned about the threat to this once abundant North American plant, I have been ‘on the lookout’ for stands of milkweed.

     Near my home, by a road that runs along a ridge, is a hearty stand of milkweed.  I watch the plants change with the seasons, and I find them beautiful, even in winter.  The other day I took a walk to photograph them

     Leaning this way and that, the bare, grey stalks support no leaves this time of year, only spent seed pods.  Once plump and green, the pods are now dry, open husks.  They split wide open months ago, and offered up their seeds to the wind. 

     But the wind was capricious;  she ignored–or only lightly touched–many of the open pods.  Even now in January, some of the open pods are still waiting, neatly lined with long silken strands, each one tipped with a brown seed, like dozens of matches pressed together in a matchbox. 

     Other pods are a disheveled mess.  Some of their threads have been ripped out and blown away, while other threads, tousled by the wind, remain in their pod.  And some of the threads are now matted clumps, stuck for months now to the milkweed stalks.  Blown from their pods, these seeds never made it past the little stand of milkweeed.   

     And some pods have been scoured clean of silk and seed.  All that remains in their tawny interiors is what looks like a divider, a brittle, brownish strip separating one side of the pod’s interior from the other.

     The milkweed seems an example of nature in its extravagance.  For countless generations, some of its many seeds have been carried away, and some of those have resulted in new milkweed plants.  Yet every year many other seeds ‘never leave home,’ never reproduce.  

     I will be watching in the spring, as the next generation of the humble but pretty milkweed begins to grow and green.–April Moore  P.S.  Please take a look at my photos below.

 

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6 Responses to “A Meditation on Milkweed”

  1. Joan Brundage Says:

    Thanks, April, for sharing this. I didn’t know Milkweeds was the food of Monarch Butterflies. I also think the Milkweed plants are beautiful.

  2. Elizabeth Cottrell Says:

    Beautiful! April, your posts always make me pause and drink in the beauty around me. The save me from my tendency to rush too much and miss too much.

  3. Gila Says:

    April – I remember when as a child some milkweed was blown into my mouth and I thought it tasted nasty. Good to know it supports such a splendid species. Thanks for changing it from humdrum to a thing of beauty. And congratualtions on your lovely photos, which make me look twice. Your posts always do!

  4. Tony Dorrell Says:

    Hi April,
    Your page and pictures are about the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) which grows in fields and along roads here in Shenandoah County. The best milkweed to attract and raise Monarch butterflies here is Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). It is like a magnet for attracting the Monarchs. It is available as small plants from the most popular plant and seed companies on line and in their catalogs. If you plant some in your garden, you can watch the Monarchs go through their entire life cycle in just a few weeks. It’s interesting, enjoyable, and does a lot of good for the beautiful and endangered Monarch butterflies.

  5. Seth Says:

    April, great photos! I remember when I was a kid we had milkweed in our field and we would find monarch larvae crawling on them all the time. Now there is still some milkweed, but I haven’t seen any monarchs…

  6. April Says:

    What a great idea, Tony! Thanks to your helpful comment, I have made a note to myself to look into planting some butterfly milkweed in the spring. It will indeed be fun to watch the monarchs! Thanks.

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