As we are sliding into winter, my garden is dying back and turning brown. Even so, I still have a small patch of Broadleaf Milkweed hanging on in their tall, stately manner.
This is a cousin of the milkweed I had in Texas, but that was thicker on the ground and a hotbed of Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) reproduction. Monarchs pick up glycosides from milkweed and it makes Monarchs poisonous to most butterfly predators like birds. They don’t necessarily die but definitely vomit the whole mess up. Once learned, never forgotten.
My version of the huge milkweed clan will grow in poor sandy soils and in dry high cold climates. It is statuesque and has broad thick leaves up to about 5 inches long. An oddity in this country of tiny leaves that protect against water loss and wind tear. So it makes a dramatic sculptural accent in my garden.
Do not eat this plant!
It is just for the Monarchs. My Monarchs are looping around the western United States and Mexico, just like me (and hummingbirds). Monarchs have lost a billion in population since 1996 according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, mostly due to massive Roundup (glyphosphate) use. This is being used on millions of acres and is tied to GMO soybean and corn crops. I don’t eat those any more than I can avoid, I buy Bob’s Red Mill flour and bake my own bread. But that’s another story.
Three years ago I had one Broadleaf Milkweed in front of my house, then two. Looking around my 5 acres I noticed that all my milkweed were at the same level on the hill and strung out in a long line almost like a geological survey altitude map line.
Last year I saw one single milkweed in seed in a ditch near my house. I jumped out of my truck and got a handful of seed. All the seeds were blown away before the momma plant got taken out by the bulldozer cleaning out our drainage ditches. I hope they are in a safe location. I spread my handful along their favored altitude line on my property. I have more now, and find them quite elegant. They still run that 350 foot line along the front of my property.
To give my neighbors their due, they are mostly horse people and milkweed is toxic to horses. I believe horses only eat milkweed because being penned up with insuffient space and graze… they eat anything they can find. Something like being locked in a house with nothing but Coca cola. You know it’s bad for you but…
I am glad the wind blows my milkweed seed up and maybe over my hill because I don’t want to poison the horses hereabouts, I just want to raise Monarchs. I know horse people are not raising milkweed, it’s up to me in this circular economy of mine to make a small way station on the Monarchs’ loop.
Monarchs take nectar from many plants and pollinate as they go from plant to plant. They have always been a major pollinator and a plentiful one. Monarch has always been the easiest butterfly for children to recognise, as large and prevalent as they were. So much so that it is odd to see so few of them now.
Monarchs fill a big pollination niche in a circular economy, so it a shame that their very migration works against them because I cannot protect an isolated population on my property. The population keeps moving on its bigger circular economy and ties my smaller circle to the western half of North America.