A Milkweed Project

Several years ago I discovered a group of milkweed plants growing at the edge of the property. They were in the shade of a 60-foot-tall Norway spruce and lacked the vigor and floral production of open-grown plants. Mindful of the decline of Monarch butterflies and their habitats, I transplanted about 15 plants to better sites in full sun. This was done in the spring of 2015 and 2016.

Most plants survived the stress of transplanting but they didn’t become fully acclimated and established until this year. I’m now pleasantly surprised with the results, and plan to continue the project. The new colonies are producing root sprouts as well as flowers, and the response of nectaring insects was immediate.

Here is a small sample of milkweed visitors last week – and several plants have not reached full bloom yet! This is a wildlife manager’s dream scenario: one action, with multiple benefits.

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Banded Hairstreak butterfly (milkweed flowers are a preferred food source)

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Virginia Ctenucha moth

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Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

Given the insect activity, I wasn’t surprised to find a common 8-legged predator lurking in the flower clusters: the Flower Crab Spider (I had to gently lift the flower cluster and shoot one-handed to get the image).

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Flower Crab Spider

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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15 thoughts on “A Milkweed Project

  1. I’ve been wanting to find native milkweed to plant, but having trouble finding a source. Perhaps I’ll have better luck once I’m settled at the new location (just 29 days to go now!) 😀

  2. BTW Nick, did you know that milkweed buds are edible? I’ve cooked them in several changes of water and enjoyed their flavor. It’s been awhile though. There are plenty of them at the elementary school down the street. Might have to gather some and try it again. Years ago they planted a lot of milkweeds as well as other flowers and wildflowers and earned recognition as a way-station or is it by-station for the monarch butterflies. The principal would collect a chrysalis so that the children could watch the butterfly emerge. I have always been impressed by the love of nature this school has and promotes. It’s like going to a park, a garden, and orchard in the neighborhood. There is also a pond that now has a resident green heron. The principal would teach the kids about nature and would take them onto the pond by canoe.

    • Thanks Kathy. All very interesting. The school commitment to environmental education is a heart-warming story, and addresses a subject that I’ve been harping about for decades. As you know, the typical formula for grounds design and maintenance on school properties is structures + athletic fields + many acres of intensively managed lawn. The latter does little for the maintenance budget, environmental health or education. A nice starting point that works just about anywhere is an arboretum that includes low-maintenance trees, shrubs, perennials and foot paths.

      • They also have a large circular garden area for neighbors, students, and teachers to maintain during growing season. Many of the trees are fruit producing; apples pears, peaches, and my favorite, service berries (June berries, shadbush).

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