About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Plant some milkweed

Milkweeds attract a wide variety of pollinators like hummingbirds and are the sole food source of monarch butterfly larvae and their relatives. Where you once saw milkweed along roadsides and in farm fields here in Michigan, today manicured lawns, and the herbicides used to prepare fields crops has created a shortage of food for the Monarch caterpillars.

You can find several varieties sold at garden centers. Their flowers produce a strong and beautiful fragrance in the spring and fluffy seed pods in the fall that the goldfinches love to uses as nesting material.

Common Milkweed is a perennial native to Michigan and much of the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada. It prefers well-drained soils and full sunlight and is very easy to identify with its big broad meaty leaves and tall stem and tight starry flower clusters that look like exploding pink fireworks. It also bleeds a milky white sap wherever broken much like dandelions.
Monarch caterpillars like Milkweed because it contains a variety of chemical compounds that make them poisonous to potential predators. The adult monarch and monarch larvae are both brightly colored serving as a warning to potential predators that they are poisonous. Unsuspecting predators only need to taste a monarch butterfly or larva once to learn not to eat them again. Most animals quickly spit them out.

Female monarchs may lay only one egg per plant, which hatches into a caterpillar in about five days. Tiny little larva or caterpillars emerge and begin eating milkweed. Once fully grown the caterpillar forms a chrysalis and emerges as butterfly two weeks later.

Spring is a critical time for monarchs. Their numbers are at their lowest point at this time of year. The old generation is dying. A new generation must grow and survive. You can track their migration on the Monarch Butterfly Migration Map.


Related Articles:
- Do Monarch Butterflies just wake up in the spring? http://goo.gl/5tkUk
- Monarch migration route http://goo.gl/L66ty
- Punctuation Butterflies: The First Butterfly of Spring! http://bit.ly/JHUpG1  
- How Fast Does a Monarch Butterfly Fly? http://bit.ly/ywhpZr
- Did you know butterflies have ears on their wings? http://bit.ly/x04qEi


Carolyn said...

Common Milkweed is native here in Utah and I was delighted several years back to see it suddenly appear in my gardens. Last year I planted Butterfly Weed and have been anxiously awaiting it's return from slumbering under the soil. Wouldn't you know that it was the last perennial to surface? About four inches tall now, and growing each day, it brings hope that we will be graced with Monarchs this Summer. Your site is a mecca for all things that are wonderful to me... thank you for sharing your knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Milkweed grows along the drainage ditches on my road,fragrant.