Milkweed: Food Fit for Monarchs
Milkweed in Bloom
Narrowleaf Milkweed Plants in Bloom
Narrowleaf Milkweed through the Seasons
Summer is the only season of the year when Narrowleaf Milkweed is lovely to look at. Its long narrow leaves droop below clusters of about 25 delicate white flowers which appear as crowns above small pink petals. You can find the flowering plants from June until September. When you see the plants in this form, you decide they'd make attractive plants to add to your butterfly garden.
Indeed, the monarch caterpillars and the butterflies themselves will appreciate your thoughtfulness in helping to spread the seeds. The monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the undersides of milkweed leaves, one seed only per leaf. When the eggs hatch, the baby caterpillars and their later stage reincarnations will want to eat all the milkweed you've got, since it is their only food. They will even eat the pods until they break open to display the silky seeds.
The long, narrow pods will split in autumn, exposing more seeds than you will want to count. This is when the plant begins to get messy. There are no lovely flowers left, and the silky pods are unkempt. The silk seems to expand until each clump is a silky mass with oval brown seeds floating in it. Then the milkweed bugs appear to eat the seeds, adding a bit of action to the scene.
When the rainy season begins, the silk becomes really messy. You know how your hair looks when it gets wet? Well the milkweed silk strands lose what beauty they have when their fluffiness turns into wet strands. It doesn't bother the milkweed bugs any, because they can still eat the seeds. But that beautiful butterfly garden you had in July is looking pretty sorry now. That's why I recommend that you harvest the seeds before it rains and set aside an out-of-the-way sunny patch of land for a monarch garden. Plant the seeds there and keep it well watered until the plants are established. The monarchs and their offspring will be happy, you can feel good about helping them survive, you can visit your milkweed patch whenever you like, and the rest of your garden won't look messy. Sometime in winter, the stems will die back. You will think the plants have died. But they will be back in spring.
A Monarch Caterpillar on Milkweed Pod
A Monarch Very Hungry Caterpillar
I came upon this last representative of this generation of this year's monarch caterpillars at the end of October. Maybe he hadn't read that he was supposed to be eating leaves, because he was eating the pod, instead. The pictures show him from two different angles. He looked lonely. I guess I should have caught him and confined him so I could watch him pupate, but I hate to keep creatures in captivity, and when I came the next day with my video camera, he was gone. Birds aren't supposed to like them, but maybe they hadn't read the books or learned the hard way before by eating another one. Or, maybe he had gone for his walk to find a twig on which to pupate. I could not find a chrysalis anywhere nearby either, so I guess I won't get to watch him emerge as a monarch. Maybe I will find him in butterfly form on our eucalyptus tree later in the season.
A Tour Through My Milkweed on October 31
Fall is the Ugly Season for Milkweed
Milkweed Gone to Seed
When Narrowleaf Milkweed goes to see, it looks, well, seedy. It begs to be tossed out. But if you love the monarchs, you won't get rid of it. Not yet. Grab those seeds before the milkweed bugs do, and replant it in a sunny spot where you don't see it all the time. If you replant in November, and water until new little plants are established, you will see flowers again in two years. Don't plant in a pot because they are likely not to survive there.
And what about the ugliness of your remaining plants? Once you remove the seedy silk, they won't look so bad. If necessary you can pull the stems or cut them back, since they will die back in winter anyway. In spring the green shoots will reappear and you will have flowers for the bees and butterflies again. Meanwhile, your new out-of-sight patch will be growing to replace these first plants in your garden.
To see the details of the pictures to the right, please click the photos to make them appear full size.
Milkweed Bugs Close Up
Happy Milkweed Bugs at Dinner
Meet the Milkweed Bugs
This is the first year I've met the milkweed bugs on my plants. Maybe this year I had enough milkweed to attract them. They begin to accumulate when the pods appear and break, exposing the seeds. They are true bugs and do not have mouths for biting or chewing food. Instead, they have a tube-like beak which they use to suck nutrients from the milkweed seeds. The adult bugs I have pictures of appear to be the Large Milkweed Bug, as opposed to the the other species, known as the Small Milkweed Bug. This would seem to indicate the nymphs (baby milkweed bugs) are also Large Milkweed Bugs. The nymphs go through five stages of growth, called instars, to become adults. Each stage lasts about a week, and after each one the nymph molts and emerges a bit bigger, until it finally emerges as an adult bug with its wings.
About Common Milkweed
- Common Milkweed
Describes common milkweed, and tells how to establish it, how it has been used by native peoples, and much more.
Milkweed Bugs are Always Busy
Milkweed in November, after the Rain
After the Rain
The milkweed is nearing the end of its season. The rain has come. Its days of glory are over, its flowers long gone, and now, after the rain, it looks really sad. The bugs haven't deserted it yet, and won't as long as it still has something left to feed them. Soon, though, even the stems will be gone, to await resurrection in the spring.
I'm Glad You Have Joined Me Here
I hope you now know much more than you did about Narrowleaf Milkweed and the creatures who need it for survival. Please leave me some feedback or any questions you may have, in the comments section below.
Thanks for joining me on this visual journey through my milkweed.