Found on the Greenway: Milkweed/Monarch
By: Jim Bogenschneider, Catawba Master Naturalist
It is now summer and getting very hot and humid making it a lot more challenging to enjoy nature. I try to beat the heat by going out early in the morning, bringing lots of water, and wearing a wide brimmed hat. I hope everyone can brave the weather because there is so much to see at this time of the year. In this article I would like to talk just a little bit about the humble milkweed and the impact it has on the animals that depend on it for their very survival.
I have been keeping my eye on some milkweed plants that I found growing along the Prairie Loop and surprisingly have seen the same type of milkweed growing in the parking lot at the Dairy Barn (photo above right). The patch I have frequented on the Prairie Loop is in the controlled burn area that was done last year. You would never believe how fast it has recovered.
Milkweeds are in a genus (Asclepias) that contains over 140 known species. The orange one in the photo above has the common name Butterfly Weed. Its sap is not milky like other milkweeds, but does contain the same alkaloids that make a lot of them toxic.
I hope that everyone is aware of the plight the Monarch butterfly is in. I have read some very disturbing news that the odds of its extinction are as high as fifty percent sometime in the next twenty years. The milkweed is the host plant for the monarch. This means the monarch uses it to lay its eggs on and the caterpillars feed on it until they are ready to metamorphose into an adult butterfly.
Milkweed habitat is becoming more and more scarce due, in part, to mowing along highways and farms eliminating hedge rows. We can all help by incorporating milkweeds into our gardens, and as an added benefit we get to enjoy the beautiful monarch butterfly.
As always I can’t wait to get out again and see what else nature is up to and what can be found on the Greenway.
Milkweed patch off the North Steele Creek trail.