Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nature Notes: One Wondrous Weed

Strange and Beautiful

Well, it's been awhile. Hasn't it.

Here's the thing: I turned 60 last week, and it hit me harder than I expected. Suffice it to say that my thoughts turned inward and melancholy for a few weeks, until I realized how ungrateful it is to lament getting old when so many never get the chance to do so; how silly it is to regret the things left undone when I could still do most of them if I really wanted to.

So. I'm over it. And I'm back. Now about this weed ...

Over the past couple of years, I have allowed the milkweeds to spread in hopes that monarch butterflies would find them. We have three handsome stands of it now, and it makes me smile to think how my old neighbors from the development would react to see them ... I'd have villagers at my door with torches and pitchforks. Literally.

Milkweed is generally described in agricultural literature as nasty, noxious, invasive, toxic, and pernicious. I beg to differ. It's a handsome, sturdy, healthy-looking plant with gorgeous, fragrant flowers in summer and perfectly magical seed pods in the fall. Parts of it are edible if boiled first, though I have no intention of testing that.

Its genus, Asclepias, is named for Asklepios, the Greek god of healing. It has been used in Native American and folk medicine to treat everything from warts to kidney stones to asthma and as a contraceptive, though I haven't figured out yet how that last one would have worked.

The fiber in the stems was used to make cloth, and the floss of the seeds was used to make fine thread as glossy and strong as silk. In World War II children collected the pods and turned them in to the government. The lightweight floss was used as stuffing in life vests and flight suits.

In Hindu mythology, the creator was under the influence of milkweed juice when he created the universe (which would explain a lot), and so milkweed is considered to be the king of plants.

In your back yard garden or wild patches it smells like lilac and attracts butterflies and bees like nobody's business. In our patches, tiny tree frogs like to sun themselves on the broad, flat leaves.

AND, It is the only food monarch caterpillars can eat. The sap has a cardiac toxin in it. Monarchs hold that toxin in their bodies and wings, which makes them un-tasty and toxic to most birds and other predators.

No more milkweed, no more monarchs. Butterfly conservation groups are encouraging people to plant milkweed along the migration paths of monarchs to offset the stands lost to development.

OK. Done. Here I am, surrounded by common milkweed. So where are the monarchs?

* If you'd like to plant milkweed, I'll have a lot of seeds come fall. Drop me an email and an address and I'll be happy to send you some.

Click here to visit Michelle's site and see more Nature Notes.


Daryl said...

I've got 3 yrs on you ... and no weeds but I do have a nasty little green caterpillar/worm that ate my morningglories .. I am so pissed

Jill said...

Happy Belated Birthday! I hope you can focus on celebrating YOU. The milkweed is so pretty!

Rambling Woods said...

Oh my goodness..I have been feeling like that since turning 55...I am trying to come out of my funk and think I am making progress...sort of.. I thought I was the only one...

Ah...just bought two more butterfly weed they were getting rid of cheap. I have swamp milkweed and there is common across the pond..I take the seeds and plant them across the pond and watch in sadness as all the new seedling that just started naturally get mowed down....

Rambling Woods said...

And a very Happy Birthday...yes I think mortality creeps in and I am frankly ticked off about it...

Thyra said...

Don't worry! I'm 79 in September. I'm still here!

I hope the Monarchs will come.

Happy birthday!

Best wishes
Little Old Lady
Grethe ´)

EG Wow said...

Sorry you took your birthday so hard. Try to remember that 60 is just a number. :)

I enjoyed reading your post and I love it that you have three stands of milkweed! Bravo!

I haven't seen any monarchs yet this year, which saddens me. I have tons of Ascelepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed) blooming in my gardens right now so the butterflies are welcome to drop by anytime.

Carver said...

I know the butterflies will appreciate you having milkweed. I do that too.

I'm sorry your birthday hit so hard. Hopefully it will get easier as time goes on.

MyMaracas said...

Daryl, I'd be pissed too. I love nature, but I hate having anything eat my flowers.

Michelle, I hear you. It's a funky time of life, and it may get even funkier. Try growing the milkweed as a background plant in the border, or as a summer hedge. Maybe the neighbors will come around.

Thyra, 79? I never would have guessed, your blog is so vibrant. Thanks for the birthday wishes.

MyMaracas said...

Jill, Thanks! I've been trying to find the plusses, and there are a few.

Hmmm. EG, I wonder why the monarchs are absent for both of us this year. And I think maybe we should start a milkweed fan club. LOL

Carver, I'm sure they'll enjoy it, if they ever show up. It's like giving a party and having nobody show up.

NatureFootstep said...

I hope the butterflies will come your way. I think the flowers are very nice too.

Debbie said...

happy birthday to you!!! 50 is difficult, it gets easier as you slide the other way!! haha

we visited a butterfly house in hershey, pa., i blogged about it a few days ago, take a peak, i think you will enjot it!!!

Linda Myers said...

I'll be 63 in a couple of months. I'm still baffled about how that happened. But I'm grateful for every day and for all the wisdom I'm acquiring!