Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) has a delicious fragrance and attracts a diversity of wildlife to shuttle its pollen about. Here at Flower Hill Farm there are numerous stands of milkweed in the fields and gardens. When the dainty balls of florets begin to pop, an audience of butterflies, bees, ants, and birds take notice. Spiders settle in and wait but these predators are not the only danger to visiting insects. Some of the pollen sacs or saddlebags attach and will not come off the tiny feet of bees and butterflies. It can become a burden if insects cannot drop the sacs. Plants have their unique techniques in assuring their survival through pollination with little regard, at times, for their partners.
I can think of no lovelier or more giving plant and flower that so freely grows in our fields and gardens. Of course, we all love milkweed for its important role in being the host plant of the Monarch Butterfly but I confess to loving the plant for its flowers and would love it the same if it were not the only host plant for the monarch. I love to step close and gently hold a rosy globe of milkweed. The sensation of lightness is remarkable like a small pink perfumed cloud fluttering in my hand. I could hover there to breathe and bask in the scent for hours if my life did not have so many demands.
The flowers alone are a gift to covet. But then, milkweed is so much more than just a pretty blossom. A never ending show amazes me, if I can linger and watch the array of butterflies that visit milkweed when covered with inflorescence. Fritillaries are frequent guests.
I often see green-eyed Clouded and Orange Sulphurs sipping the sweet gifts of Asclepias syriaca.
When in bloom milkweed draws Hairstreaks and allows me to see them up close to identify the Banded Hairstreaks from the Stripe Hairstreaks. The differences are subtle.
Tiger Swallowtails often display torn wings but this one was perfect . . . for that moment. Birds are diving into the flowers for the butterflies. It is hard to watch as our Eastern Phoebe dives, hovers, and harvests my favorite insects. Birds only bring one to six nestlings into the world each summer, whereas female butterflies fasten up to five hundred eggs on their host plants. Thankfully, there are always survivors enough to keep the numerous species going.
Butterflies must compete with honeybees and native bees alike in order to dip into hidden nectaries within tones of pink folds.
Asclepias syriaca may be too much for a smaller garden but the Asclepias tuberosa would fit perfectly. Also known as Butterfly Weed, the tuberosa has lovely orange carpets of florets making it easier for butterflies to alight and nectar. Flat versus round allows for a larger landing area.
It can get a bit crowded sometimes.
All of the milkweeds are welcome here in our gardens where we have plenty of room and need strong thugs to be able to survive the invasive bishops weed. I hope Butterfly Weed turns out to be weed-like so it too will flourish. The allure of milkweed is constant and I can never get enough. It is a plant of plenty in more ways than one.