June drawing to a close has always been a special time of year. Thirty-four times it marked the change from working in the classroom to ten weeks of vacation or a summer job. For many, Milkweed is little more than a roadside weed. Its unique connection to the Monarch butterfly makes it an incredibly important native plant. Our retirement land was purchased more than one quarter of a century ago and its wildly rural nature placed us in close contact with both the butterfly and its food source. Memory of its powerful scent could not go unnoticed.
The difference in the color of the open flowers remains an unanswered question. Many are close to white colored while others show a rose pink. One possible explanation could be the age of the open flower but we see both colors on plants with both open flowers and unopened buds. Perhaps this issue is similar to the variation in human eye or hair color. It just happens.
Several years ago we started squash seeds indoors well ahead of the last frost date. When these plants were moved outside there was a long period when no blossoms were pollinated. The newly opened flowers on the milkweed were a powerful magnet drawing in all of the bees. Our squash simply had to wait until these flowers were finished. Early yesterday morning when I first saw open flowers, a perfect Fritillary butterfly was finding food there. When I returned in the afternoon with a camera the bees had taken possession of these flowers. The only butterflies seen then were being chased away by selfish bees.
It comes as no surprise to those people that know us that we meddle in the natural order. As Fall approaches we see huge numbers of Milkweed plants with no leaves as they die down. This is at the exact time when the caterpillars need a food source. These developing creatures eat only Milkweed leaves and they are scarce at that time. Milkweed is an amazing plant. When it has a visit from a lawn mower, it simply regrows. We mow two large fields intending to end mowing in July so that the new growth will have young leaves for the caterpillars. This sounds like a good plan but some of the plants that we cut down are feeding new caterpillars. We do have large areas that never see the mower so we are not killing all of them. This working with nature is never easy.