Milkweeds and Monarchs

Once, a few years ago, I saw these incredible flowers—kind of like giant mauve disco-ball chandeliers. When I inquired, I was told they were an incredibly invasive species of weed known as milkweed. I decided right then and there that I had to have some. But of course, you can’t buy them at your local nursery…and so, I forgot. Until one day this pretty plant that I couldn’t identify started growing. Often when that happens, I wait until it blooms to see what it turns into, especially when it grows in a place where I have space for surprises. Lo and behold, it turned into…my very own milkweed patch.

I decided to let it stay, even though the milkweed got taller than the Japanese maple tree it grew around. Why? Because milkweed is the essential feeding and breeding habitat of the monarch butterfly. Milkweed is one of the only plants they will lay their eggs on. If you want to plant and register a milkweed patch, you can go to and have it registered and certified a “Monarch Waystation.”

However, there are even more reasons to have milkweed in your garden. First of all, it smells DIVINE. Second of all, apparently it is also highly appealing to bees, since mine are covered with them. And third, if you ever need a disposable diaper substitute, it’s what the Native Americans used (when the flowers go to seed, it makes the fluffy stuff that goes floating through the air like magic).

This morning as I was having my coffee outside, I saw a monarch flitting about. I couldn’t tell for sure, but I think she might have been laying some eggs. I let her know that those eggs are safe with me!


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16 Responses to Milkweeds and Monarchs

  1. Bonnie June 25, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    Spotted a small patch along our hayfields yesterday. We marked them with florescent tape to alert our haymaker not to cut them. Also on our ride, we found a fairly large patch of butterfly weed. What a wonderful time of year!

  2. Caroline June 25, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    I adored milkweed as a young child and so it was very often the gift my little dirt-covered hands brought home for my
    Mom after a long day of playing outside.

    It finally blew into my own garden 40 years later and I have been adamant about it not being a “weed”, but rather, the most beautiful, unique flower on earth. Thank you for validating the existence of it throughout my otherwise seemingly well maintained gardens. Now if only the same could happen with some Queen Anne’s Lace.

  3. irma June 25, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    Oh Caroline….so beautifully written.

    Thank you for this blog. As a new gardener I welcome the milkweed and the butterflies that will become part of our expanding garden.

  4. irma June 25, 2012 at 9:52 am #

    Does anyone have a photo of the milkweed before it goes to flower?

  5. Bonnie June 25, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Yikes! A visit to the Monarch watch blog shows a graph of the decline of monarch habitat matching the increase of corn and soybeans genetically modified to resist glyphosate.
    So awful!

  6. Leah June 25, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    We just enrolled our organic farm as a Monarch Waystation. For the last 3 years, we’ve focused on creating native wildflower patches of all sizes–from a 1/2 acre meadow to a 4×6 foot garden beside the house…it’s been great to see an explosion in pollinator numbers. No non-native butterfly bush or invasive vines for us…just butterfly weed, swamp & common milkweed, asters, and Joe Pye weed.

  7. Jill June 25, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    Awesome for letting the mildweed grow. I also left it grow all over my property: in the rose garden, at the front door, along the front of the house. I just love it and let it grow freely. Here’s a picture of it growing at my front porch.

  8. Margaret Kirker June 25, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    I believe that milkweed is the only thing that Monarchs eat and that is why they lay their eggs on them

  9. Steve Cadwell June 25, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    Thank you for weiting about this. I’ve maintained a Wildlife Habitat / Waystation for several years and continually learn and marvel by observing this plant.

    Milkweed spreads readily through its seeds, as you mentioned. But I don’t know it to be invasive, per se, and it’s native just about anywhere you find monarchs. Even more mysterious and enigmatic is each year’s multiple generation migration north starting from Baja or Mexico and the fourth generation’s return flight south back to its great- great- great- ancestor’s home, sometimes to the very tree it spent the last winter.

  10. maria (farm country kitchen) June 25, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    I also just learned that the Pennsylvania Dutch used Milk Weed sap as a treatment for poison ivy! So if you’ve got poison ivy rash and milkweed give it a try. Fortunately I don’t have any poison ivy rash right now otherwise I would try it.

  11. Bonnie June 25, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    Margaret, I see Monarchs on my butterfly weed. I assumed they were eating it, but never studiously watched. Maybe because it is the same bright orange as they are, they think it’s one of them.

    Certainly butterfly weed attracts them. Last year I noted in a seed catalogue that they had butterfly weed plants for sale. I had always thought of it as a weed and not something to grow. I will definitely add it to my house garden soon.

  12. Karen Guise June 25, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    Butterfly Weed is a species of Asclepias. Common Milkweed, pictured above, is A. syriaca. In any of its forms, Milkweed is the sole host plant for not only Monarchs, but also Queen butterflies, and as we have all discovered, one of the most beneficial native plants there are. It’s actually fairly “early” in the butterfly season, and you may not notice many Monarchs around. What you will notice are predatory wasps and flies patrolling the patch, looking for caterpillars to attack. Only a very small percentage of these cats will make it to butterflies. Many of us raise the cats inside safe enclosures for this reason. I use plastic shoeboxes. The cuttings of milkweed, I keep fresh by inserting the ends into the floral water containers used on long-stem roses. Anyone interested in doing this can find info on web, I’m sure. You need to harvest the eggs, though, not the cats, as most will be infected with fly larva. To do so, look on the underside of the leaves. When you find an egg, “fold” the leaf over slightly so that the egg becomes prominent, then simply scrape the egg off with your fingernail and drop it in the container. Be sure the egg is sitting up well on the leaf and it should just pop right off. I’ve done this for years, and there is truly no better feeling than when you release a butterfly you have raised (I once made a grown man cry by having him release them with me!) If you raise them indoors, they actually bond with you, and I’ve often had my “babies” come up to me outside after release.

  13. Jean Nash June 27, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    I love this blog/website. You teach me so much and share such beautiful information. Thank you!

  14. Amanda July 3, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

    You can eat the buds before they flower, too!

  15. beau July 18, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

    Thanks for the post. I needed that.

  16. Maggie Van Fossan February 27, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    There are several different milkweeds. I live in the Pac NW. Narrow leaf milkweed grows here. Are they all invasive?

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