Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Sweet Summer Scent

Milkweed flowers will always be associated with summer vacation in my mind.  This former school teacher lived for summer vacation and the milkweed flowers marked its beginning.  Now we have given over large areas of our ground to milkweed and goldenrod.  These two plants work together to sustain the monarch butterfly during the important fall season.  Goldenrod flowers serve as a late food source for the butterfly while milkweed nourishes the caterpillar.

Fall is a critical period in the survival of the monarch butterfly.  Newly hatched eggs must develop into the butterflies that migrate to Mexico.  These fall caterpillars need milkweed leaves to feed on but the leaves shown in the pictures will have dried out and fallen by then.  Milkweed is a persistent plant and comes back after repeated mowing.  We have a five acre field that is tended so that it is filled with fresh young milkweed growth in September.  These plants do not flower but their tender leaves nourish the developing caterpillars.   The butterfly will feed on any flower so milkweed flowers are not necessary at this time.  Scores of new butterflies rise out of this field just in time to begin their journey south.

Now is the time to enjoy the sweet scent of the flowers.  One need not approach a flower to catch the fragrance as the air is filled with the perfume.  Bees spend long days working the flowers.  One need not fear a sting while surrounded by so many bees since they are focused on gathering food.  It has been reported that a bee cannot assume the stinging posture when it is loaded with pollen.  I think that both the bee and the person are made mellow by the cloud of sweet smell.

If one is interested in helping monarch butterflies survive, I believe that repeatedly cutting milkweed during the summer will insure a fall food source for the caterpillars.  Some plants must be left to develop seed to insure an abundant crop of new plants but there needs to be a generous supply of tender new leaves to support the eggs and caterpillars during September.

We have already  seen a few Monarch butterflies and the milkweed is ready and waiting!


Beth @ PlantPostings said...

There are so many beautiful species of Milkweed, and A. syriaca is one of them. Another Monarch favorite, with a vanilla-scented flower is Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata). The name says Swamp, but it grows well in normal garden conditions. Here's a good resource for regional Milkweed species:

Indie said...

The first time I smelled Common Milkweed, I was so impressed with how fragrant it was. Some of the other types of milkweed are not so sweet smelling. That's so great that you have seen several Monarchs already! I see very few Monarchs here in Massachusetts, though I have a lot of milkweed. Either we are out of the main migration route or numbers have declined that much (or both).