What kid in America didn’t grow up chasing milkweed fairies? The hairy white seeds floated, bobbled, and danced across the grass while the neighborhood children delighted in catching the elusive prize. Once caught, you cupped it in your hands, made a wish, and blew it free. It tumbled out on a summer breeze and drifted to wherever.
Kids? I still catch milkweed fairies and I’m plenty old enough to know better.
The problem is this—there just aren’t as many milkweed seeds floating around as there used to be. For some reason, we like to see more “refined” perennials growing along our fences, roadsides, and utility easements. But that’s a bias that’s hurting the pollinators—especially the milkweed butterflies such as the monarch.
Magic for monarchs, too
The awe-inspiring monarch is completely dependent on milkweeds for survival. The larval stage eats the leaves of the milkweed and stores a portion of the poisonous sap in its tissues. This poison remains throughout the life cycle of the monarch, making it distasteful to predators. If we want to save the wondrous migrating monarchs, we have to save the milkweeds.
Milkweeds don’t deserve the “weed” part of their name. They are sturdy perennials that love the sun and can live in poor and rocky soils. Depending on the species, they grow from 2 to 6 feet high and make excellent low-maintenance border and landscape plants. The flowers come in an astonishing array of colors that includes white, green, pink, purple, and brilliant orange, and the seed pods make eye-catching dried arrangements.
The best part is that milkweeds attract not only monarchs but a panoply of pollinators including bees, other butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Go ahead, plant weeds
So put it on your list. Buy some milkweed seeds. The organizations below will provide free or low-cost milkweed seeds in a variety of colors that are especially attractive to monarchs. The sites contain useful planting and care instructions as well.
Go ahead. Plant them for the butterflies . . . plant them for the kids . . . plant them for the fairies. Then make a wish.
Honey Bee Suite