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Milkweed fairies due for a comeback

Make a wish, blow it free.

What kid in America didn’t grow up chasing milkweed fairies? The hairy white seeds floated, bobbled, and danced across the grass while the neighborhood children delighted in catching the elusive prize. Once caught, you cupped it in your hands, made a wish, and blew it free. It tumbled out on a summer breeze and drifted to wherever.

Kids? I still catch milkweed fairies and I’m plenty old enough to know better.

The problem is this—there just aren’t as many milkweed seeds floating around as there used to be. For some reason we like to see more “refined” perennials growing along our fences, roadsides and utility easements. But that’s a bias that’s hurting the pollinators—especially the milkweed butterflies such as the monarch.

The awe-inspiring monarch is completely dependent on milkweeds for survival. The larval stage eats the leaves of the milkweed and stores a portion of the poisonous sap in its tissues. This poison remains throughout the life cycle of the monarch, making it distasteful to predators. If we want to save the wondrous migrating monarchs, we have to save the milkweeds.

Milkweeds don’t deserve the “weed” part of their name. They are sturdy perennials that love the sun and can live in poor and rocky soils. Depending on the species, they grow from 2 to 6 feet high and make excellent low-maintenance border and landscape plants. The flowers come in an astonishing array of colors that includes white, green, pink, purple, and brilliant orange, and the seed pods make eye-catching dried arrangements.

The best part is that milkweeds attract not only monarchs but a panoply of pollinators including bees, other butterflies, and hummingbirds.

So put it on your list. Buy some milkweed seeds. The organizations below will provide free or low-cost milkweed seeds in a variety of colors that are especially attractive to monarchs. The sites contain useful planting and care instructions as well.

Go ahead. Plant them for the butterflies . . . plant them for the kids . . . plant them for the fairies. Then make a wish.

Rusty

http://www.livemonarch.com/free-milkweed-seeds.htm

http://www.amazingbutterflies.com/milkweedseeds.htm

Milkweed seeds. Flickr photo by Muffet/liz west.

Comments

Kathy
Reply

I love milkweeds. I had some volunteer in my garden. I left them in because I thought they were kind of cool looking. I thin them early on so they don’t take over the whole garden. I knew Monarchs loved them, but I didn’t know bees did too. Good news. I’ll keep growing them. But I will advise… don’t grow them near your patio. ALL insects seem to love them.

Rusty
Reply

Hi Kathy,

That is really good advice. When I saw the list of insects that like milkweed I was really surprised. It is a long list. Anyone not wanting to be too up close and personal with all the bugs should probably set the milkweeds away from the patio.

Thanks for doing something good for the monarchs! They really need our help.

Robert
Reply

I just read this this morning. As I was out helping my wife in the yard, amazingly I spotted two milkweed pods hanging on the fence. Admittedly, they were there because I was too lazy to clean that vine off the fence last summer. I had no idea what it was. Today as I saw a pod split open, I realized what they were. I promptly started planting the seeds all over the place. I hope they grow well this year. I would like a crop of monarchs to go with my bees.

Rusty
Reply

Very cool!

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