“A fallen blossom–returning to the bough, I thought…But no, a butterfly.”
What’s all the fuss about milkweed? Well…what’s not to love?
There’s butterfly milkweed’s day-glo orange. Grab your sunglasses.
Get a pop of prairie color—with a pollinator—from purple milkweed.
Enjoy the pretty-in-pink of prairie milkweed, sometimes called Sullivant’s milkweed.
In the fall, the milkweeds smoke silks into the autumn air, sending seeds aloft.
When the milkweed’s seeds are spent, the canoe-like seedpods are endless vehicles for creativity and imagination.
Other than the visual and tactile pleasure the blooms give us, our 19 native Illinois species of milkweed are a veritable Noah’s Ark for monarch butterflies. Although monarchs sip nectar from a variety of plants like the bee balm below, they lay their eggs only on milkweed.
When the monarch butterfly larvae (caterpillars) hatch, they munch on milkweed. Without the milkweeds, there would be no monarchs.
Scientists at Cornell University tell us to pair milkweeds with fall blooming, nectar-rich plants such as goldenrods. Why? Goldenrod and other fall nectar plants provide food for the monarch butterfly’s epic migration to Mexico in the fall. Evidently, goldenrod is an important life-giving flower for monarchs.
But it all begins with milkweed. Such a simple act of hope—to plant a flower.
After all, how often can we help save a species while, in the process, make the world more beautiful?
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii),Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; milkweed silks, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; milkweed pod with snow, East Side prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; monarch on bee balm (Monarda fistulosa); monarch caterpillar, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; monarch butterfly on goldenrod (Solidago canedensis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; common milkweed, (Asclepias syriaca) with false sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL.
Arakida Moritake (1473-1549), whose words begins this essay, was a Japanese poet who wrote about the natural world.