As our Monarch butterfly program gets underway I'll be sharing lots of information about the Monarch Butterfly! Today’s post is about a plant that is integral to the survival of the Monarch in New Brunswick (and elsewhere): Milkweed (or the Asclepias family of plants). We’ll talk a little bit about the plant’s importance to the monarch and its identifying features (in NB) today, and over the next little while we’ll also talk about our milkweed at Greener Village, and how you can help!
Importance to the Monarch
|A Monarch on Common milkweed |
(Photo from bigblogofgardening.com)
The milkweed family of plants are the only plants that a monarch butterfly can lay its eggs on and are the only food source for the Monarch caterpillar. The plants provide a place to lay eggs, food for all of the caterpillar stages of life, and they give the monarch the toxicity that keeps its predators away. Milkweed is super useful for the Monarch, but it is also a major factor in the Monarch’s declining numbers.
Over the years Milkweed has been steadily eradicated as it is considered a noxious (poisonous) weed because of its danger to cattle. It has been excessively sprayed with pesticides and actively removed from much of its natural habitat. While it is understandable that milkweed will be removed from pastures and feeding fields, milkweed can grow in a number of areas that would not be accessible to cattle including power corridors, highways, abandoned fields, and along undeveloped patches of waterfront. It is possible for milkweed to be grown in parks as well with attentive cultivation, and milkweed is a beautiful backyard plant that can be kept with minimal yearly maintenance.
The two types of milkweed found in New Brunswick are Swamp milkweed (Asclepias Incarnata) and Common milkweed (Asclepias Syriaca). Both are considered invasive, although they can be kept in gardens as long as attention is paid to them.
Swamp milkweed can be found in wetland areas around the Saint John River, in flooded plains, and around ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water. Swamp milkweed is a perennial plant (meaning it returns each year) and it is most noted for its bundles of pink flowers that it produces over the summer, mostly in August. Swamp milkweed has pairs of leaves that sit opposite each other and it grows between four to six feet tall. Swamp milkweed has long, thin leaves with a definitive point. The flowers cluster at the top of the plant.
Common milkweed (Asclepias Incarnata) is found across New Brunswick along highways, in abandoned fields, and in clearings in woodland areas. Unlike swamp milkweed, common milkweed has shorter, rounded leaves that are not strongly pointed. The flowers of common milkweed produce bundles off the main stem of the plant, and are a dull pink or greenish-white, and the plant stands
Milkweed gets its common name from the white substance inside its stem when broken, which has the consistency of milk. In addition, milkweed creates a white, silky “fluff” when it’s seeding which can make it easily identifiable. Collecting these seeds is a great way to bring some milkweed home for your own backyard monarch habitat, so keep an eye out!