Milkweed: plant it and they will come!

In recent years milkweed has received much attention as habitat for dwindling populations of monarch butterflies. Most of the more than 100 species in the Americas are tropical, but one species in particular is a staple of monarchs in the North: Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

My backyard milkweed project started in 2015 with a few transplants from a nonproductive, roadside location. Establishment was slow, but they’re now flourishing. Vegetative reproduction by root sprouts has created a colony of about 30 stems and the large, fragrant flower clusters are insect magnets (according to the US Forest Service, over 450 insects are known to feed on some part of the plant, including flower nectar). I focused on the Lepidoptera, attempting to document the variety of butterflies and moths that benefit from flowering milkweed. Multiple benefits from a single management action is a best-case scenario. The value added from a colony of milkweed is much greater than monarch habitat.

I’ve observed 9 or 10 species of butterflies and moths thus far, as well as countless bees, flies and other insects. This is a sample!

Milkweed9July18#6067E2c8x10

Honeybee

Monarch10July18#6108E2c8x10

Monarch

TigerSwallowtail6July18#5891E2c8x10

Tiger Swallowtail

CabbageWhite10July18#6152E2c8x10

Cabbage White

CtenuchaMothFly13July18#6507E2c5x7

Ctenucha Moth

Fritillary10July18#6082E5c5x7

Fritillary

TigerSwallowtail12July18#6434E2c8x10

Tiger Swallowtail

WhiteAdmiral11July18#6311E3c5x7

White Admiral

Monarch11July18#6336E2c5x7

Monarch

Photos by NB Hunter (early July, 2018). © All rights reserved.

Monarch Habitat: Milkweed

A fringe benefit of autumn leaf peeping is the discovery of other natural phenomena and photo opportunities. When setting up for the landscape scene in my last post, I couldn’t help but notice the white gobs of milkweed seeds along the untidy fencerow in front of me. Prime Monarch butterfly habitat! Still attached to the opened pods, the tethered masses of seeds were waving and fluttering like flags in the stiff breeze.

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.