In the Yard

Rhonda Hayes is a garden writer, photographer and blogger. She also volunteers as a Hennepin County Master Gardener. Rhonda chronicles her gardening adventures and advice at her award-winning blog, The Garden Buzz. She is a frequent contributor to Northern Gardener magazine and the Star Tribune Home + Garden section. At Your Voices, she writes about life around the city lakes, occasionally veering off the garden path with essays on the silly and serious issues of the day.

When Chewed Up Plants Are a Good Thing

Posted by: Rhonda Hayes Updated: July 10, 2013 - 1:15 PM

 Normally the last thing you want to see on any plant are shredded leaves. But in this case, the nibbled foliage on Asclepias syriaca or Common Milkweed is a relief. Like finally. It's so good to see some sign of Monarch butterfly activity after the slow start of summer. 

Last week myself and a few fellow Master Gardeners found a caterpillar working on a milkweed plant. And today I spied noticeable evidence of munching upon a stand of milkweed around Lake Calhoun.

 

 Monarch caterpillar perusing milkweed

For quite a few weeks the word among gardeners was "where are the Monarchs?". We know they are threatened with habitat destruction in their overwintering spot in the fragile forests of Mexico. And we know the crux of survival throughout their migration is the same in another way. Milkweed is more often eradicated than encouraged.

 

 Munched-upon milkweed foliage

In some minds milkweed is just that, a weed. In worst case scenarios it's considered an invasive to noxious weed. While others know it's a dwindling and vital resource for the Monarch butterfly.

Although you may see the brilliant and beautiful Monarchs feeding upon all sorts of flowers in the garden, their young rely upon milkweed as their sole source of food. Monarchs will feed upon floral nectars but all the while are searching for milkweed for egg laying. The young caterpillars can't live without it.

So when you plant that butterfly garden, make sure to include milkweed for Monarchs. Research the host plants for other butterfly larva while you're at it. 

There are many varieties of milkweed available, some of the most popular for Minnesota gardens are Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed) in orange or white, Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) in reddish pink and Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed), with the pink globe-shaped blooms and broad leaves. Surprisingly common milkweed has a lovely scent. Two women were passing the plant I photographed this morning and one mentioned she thought it smells like cupcakes!

Yes, it does spread easily. But look at it this way...grow at least 10 plants and your garden can be certified as an official Monarch Waystation!

For more information on this initiative for Monarch butterflies and how you can plant milkweed to help these wonderful creatures check out Monarch Watch

 

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