Did you know that the monarch butterfly is the state insect of Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and the state butterfly of Vermont and West Virginia? I just discovered this interesting information today. In fact, I learned more about monarchs today than any other day.
They were named “monarch”, possibly because “it is one of the largest of our butterflies, and rules a vast domain” – or perhaps after King William III of England.
The monarch population is estimated to have been reduced up to 80% due to various factors, but principally a decline in milkweed, covered in this fascinating video. You can read this article, at a Monarch Watch, for tracking Monarchs. Monarch Population Status.
Plight of the Monarch
Drastic Declines in Milkweed
Milkweed is the only food monarch caterpillars eat. It is being destroyed by current farming practices in the United States – notably herbicides on a mass scale, used on GMO crops that can tolerate these herbicides. Check out this monarch caterpillar.
Below is a great video about milkweed, some of it not entirely accurate but still informative and interesting.
Below is someone teaching a class on foraging milkweed as a wild edible. It is difficult for me to ascertain how safe the plant is to eat. It is said to have properties similar to digitalis (foxglove), which is used to create heart medication. Folks call the milky sap latex. Well, if it’s latex, it’s out for me because I have a mild allergy to it. Still, there are lots of folks eating it. If you search on Youtube, you’re sure to find lots of videos of how people forage and cook it.
Milkweed was used at one time to line moccasins of native tribes, and even in World War II to make life jackets. They say it’s a suitable replacement for down in pillows too. Here is a guy demonstrating how he’s making milkweed mittens.
If you want to watch this whole video, it shows him frying some milkweed pods in the beginning. But at about 3:25 into the video, it shows him making string from the milkweed stalk.
And finally on the issue of usefulness of milkweed, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has this to say about it: Not-so-Common Milkweed. Virtually all parts of the plant can be used (flowers, immature seed, mature seed, leaves, stalks and roots) according to this article. They are even conducting experiments with using it as an insecticide. But since it’s so toxic to birds when they consume monarch caterpillars, I personally believe this might not be a good thing for other wildlife.
Because of it’s multi-usefulness and that it is a relatively self sustaining plant (if it’s not sprayed to death), it fits right into the sustainable plant category. It can be invasive, so careful maintenance would be needed if you don’t want it to spread on its own. It’s a pretty simple task to remove seed pods before they spread seed, especially since monarchs don’t consume that part of the plant.
Here are sources for native milkweed seeds. This person has done such a great job at compiling the list, I didn’t want to duplicate it. =)
Well check this out. They are offering free milkweed seeds from Live Monarch website. You might want to make sure it’s a variety grown in your own state. Here is a list of species grown in various states, Milkweeds by State.
How to grow milkweed
Because it’s considered a weed, it requires virtually no care. But if you buy or get seeds free, you can sow them after first frost or sow them indoors.
Planting Milkweed Seeds Part 1
Planting Milkweed Seeds Part 2
If you’re close to an IMAX theater that is showing the film, Flight of the Butterflies, you might want to check it out!
Milkweed self plants itself out at our community garden. In the 6800 acres of Fermilab property, a part of it is farmland, leased to farmers, that sprays crops. But the open prairie is being preserved in a restoration project by volunteers. At our own garden, we leave the milkweed alone and don’t pull it out.
Do you think you’ll grow milkweed?