Royal Milkweed

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Butterfly Flower, Silkweed, Silky Swallow-wort, Virginia silkweed, Common Milkweed.  These are all names for the same plant, known where I live in southern Canada as Common Milkweed.  The only common aspect of this plant is that it can grow everywhere, even on a gravel driveway—as shown in the photo I took this weekend.

In recent years milkweed has gained attention as a plant to cherish if we want to continue seeing monarch butterflies.   This is why I nickname it ‘Royal Milkweed’.  Its leaves are monarchs’ cradle.  Monarch butterflies carefully lay their eggs on the undersides of broad milkweed leaves so their progeny (caterpillars) may feed on the green flesh and white sap–no other food will do.

Milkweeds also flourish behind my garden, where every spring sprouts emerge from rhizome roots.  Their perfume is intoxicating.

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Milkweed flowers are amazingly beautiful–comparable in their complexity to orchid flowers (says Wikipedia).

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Milkweed is a plant of many contrasts, some of which I have noted in these haiku:

Growing in harsh ground,

Bearing milk sap and nectar,

Milkweed nourishes.

Broad thick leaves,

deep traveling roots,

sweet perfume.

Star flowers,

fresh beauty defies

common name.

©2016, all rights reserved by ontheland.wordpress.com

I was inspired to highlight the contrasts shown in these photos by the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: ‘Opposites’.

Milkweed Summer and Fall Photos

Yesterday I featured the Monarch butterfly and its relationship to the milkweed plant. Today, I would like to share a series of milkweed pictures that I took  from June to October of this year. The plant is beautiful, featuring broad strong leaves with a reddish vein going up the centre,  aromatic pink flower clusters, slender green textured pods that turn brown and crack, revealing silky white filaments attached to brown teardrop seeds.   All of this is documented in the photos below, but first I would like to indulge in a few words about milkweed and its ecology.

The milkweed genus, Asclepias, is named after the Greek God of healing, Asclepius, because of the healing properties of its milky sap.  The sap is also toxic and is eaten by some animals, such as the monarch caterpillar, to ward off predators.  Milkweed is not only propagated in the wind by white floss; it also multiplies by sending out underground rhizomes which sprout new plants (that’s why I have several plants growing next to each other).  If you think of these plants as ‘weeds’, this could be a nuisance, but if you have embraced them as friends, this is excellent news.

Milkweed is a friend to many insects and plants. Some insects are completely dependent on milkweed as a food source. These would include monarch caterpillars, milkweed bugs, and milkweed leaf beetles.  For an excellent photo of orange milkweed bugs, visit  PrairieChat’s ‘Taste of Minnesota Fall’ photo collection. Milkweed nectar is sipped by butterflies, native bees, and wasps; and many animals, such as spiders, small birds, and mice use the plant as shelter. For more ecology details check out this milkweed profile.

I would like to thank Sylvain Landry of Sylvain-Landry.com,  for the added incentive to publish this collection of photos, offered by his  SL-Week 13: Ecology photo challenge, which closes in a few days.

Milkweed Flowers, June 2015
Milkweed Flowers, June 2015
Milkweed Pods, August 13, 2015
Milkweed Pods, August 13, 2015
Milkweed pods, September 15, 2015
Milkweed pods, September 15, 2015
Mature Milkweed Pod, October 2015
Mature Milkweed Pod, October 2015
Milkweed Blowing in the Wind, October 2015
Milkweed Blowing in the Wind, October 2015

‘Slowly the pod would open, letting fly

Transparent chains of pearls across the sky.’

From The Milkweed Pod  by Elizabeth Bohm.

Empty Milkweed Pod, October 2015
Empty Milkweed Pod, October 2015
Milkweed seeds, October 2015
Milkweed seeds, October 2015

Milkweed seeds lying on garden soil, as stars in a night sky, offering hope of fresh growth next year.

©2015, All rights reserved by Ontheland.wordpress.com

Milkweeds Star in Monarch Butterfly Story–Photos, Prose & Poem

Each year has brought more milkweeds to my yard. At first, one or two appeared in the driveway.  Last year, one or two grew behind the garden in front of the compost bin. This year, by the miracle of reseeding, a cluster grew.

Milkweed Garden, July 6, 2015
Milkweed Garden, July 6, 2015

This was originally a story about milkweed plants, but then I realized that it’s impossible to talk about milkweeds without mentioning the Monarch Butterfly. Most nature lovers will know that a few years ago alarm bells were sounded, as scientists realized that North American populations of monarch butterflies were drastically diminishing.  Why? They pointed to a few causes:  a lower supply of the monarch caterpillar’s only sustenance: milkweed;  neonic pesticides interfering with caterpillar development; and deforestation of the adult butterflies’ southern migratory destination, Mexico.

Monarch Caterpillar on Milkweed Leaf--CCO Public Domain
Monarch Caterpillar on Milkweed Leaf–CCO Public Domain

From this awareness, environmental organizations urged people to grow Milkweeds as they had been banished from roadways and killed off by herbicides in farmer fields.  This is how I came to protect wild milkweeds near my home.  It is a plant that fascinated me as a child, especially the milky substance that oozed out when you cracked a leaf and the silky threads bursting from the crispy pods in autumn.  This summer, I grew to enjoy milkweed flowers. With them beside me every day in the garden, I was able to appreciate their sweet scent.

Milkweed Flowers, June 2015
Milkweed Flowers, June 2015

Monarch butterfly caterpillars can only eat milkweed leaves. This limited dietary regime, consisting of only one type of food, is called ‘monophagy’.  Monarchs are brush-footed butterflies (Nymphalidae family) belonging to the subfamily of Milkweed butterflies (Danainae subfamily).  There are about 300 species of Milkweed butterflies worldwide, in tropical Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America.  

Here in poetic form is a monarch life story, told in Southern Canada, where third or fourth generation monarchs from down south arrive in early summer.

In summer,
dancing Monarchs mate
joining
great grandparent memories
of nesting
under a brighter sun,
in warmer climes.

Orange brush foot union consummated,
the queen's destiny unfolds
her purpose known, yet unknown,
she searches
for a perfect bed,
only the finest of milkweed leaves
for her precious pearls.
Carefully she lays
her eggs here and there,
resting under many a milkweed leaf.
Wait,wait, and then they hatch 
baby caterpillars,
larvae programmed 
to mature, molt, and
sport yellow black stripes,
they are vegans 
born to nibble
on their cradle, 
never to stray, 
sworn to monophagy,
forever loyal, 
progeny of Monarchs.

And then,
the feast is over
it's time to weave
a silky chrysalis,
a place for 
metamorphosis.

A mysterious transformation.

A butterfly awakes,

Hangs out to dry,

Stretches fresh wings,

And flies away. 



Monarch Butterfly--CCO Public Domain
Monarch Butterfly–CCO Public Domain

Sources:

Milkweed is a Monarch’s Best Defence, David Suzuki Foundation

The King of Butterflies–The Monarch Butterfly, Learnaboutnature.com

Wikipedia

Garden Bugs of Ontario,  by Leslie P. Foster, Ken Fry, and Doug Macaulay

©2015, All rights reserved by Ontheland.wordpress.com

End of Summer Vegetable Garden Visit 2015

This is my vegetable garden’s 5th year–just as I thought I was catching on–mother nature supplied a new set of weather conditions. Every year I have tried to get seeds and transplants into the ground earlier, but this year I held back due to cold nights extending into June.  I am not a great weather historian and don’t keep daily notes, but after the cold I recall a long wet spell followed by full force heat.  And now, after a stretch of unusual coolness, we are in the middle of hot, foggy, humidity.

Fortunately I grow for only two people.  So although the amount of some crops, such as zucchini and cucumber, was under average, I  have supplies in the refrigerator and have made a few batches of both sweet and savoury zucchini breads, with probably more to come.  I don’t do preserves so there is no disappointment there–I was thinking of exploring community donations, but that won’t happen this year.

The garden started to mature by late mid-August.  The pictures I show below were all taken after the 20th; probably half were snapped on the 31st.

Bell peppers
Bell peppers

The bell peppers plants were more leafy than usual this year and a bit nibbled by the baby grasshoppers–which by the way, have multiplied and matured,  and are currently hopping and flying all over the place.  It’s the year of the grasshopper.  These peppers can ripen into red peppers, but it may take a while.  I harvested a nice collection last year, but I am not sure I will this year.  If a green pepper shows any signs of ‘age’ or  potential decay, I harvest it;  I already have quite a few in the fridge.

The milkweed are maturing:

Common Milkweed
Common Milkweed

I planted two winter squash plants and only one good size squash has survived to date. Let’s hope I harvest it at the optimum moment.  This one is on a vine that snuck in with the cherry tomato plants.  I’m glad I let it roam.

Nutter Butter Squash
Nutter Butter Squash

On August 31, I discovered two renegade zucchini.  No matter how closely I keep watch, they sometimes escape my notice and explode in size.  The biggest one of the two late bloomers below, was 14 inches long and weighed 3.25 pounds.

As plants start to dry out and stop producing, new shoots and flowers continue to appear– makes me think of how even in physical old age we can blossom and show signs of youth and creativity. The flower below is on an ‘ancient’ bean plant.

Late Fortex Bean Flower
Late Fortex Bean Flower

Yellow dill flower heads brown and produce seeds that may be harvested or left to scatter in the wind.  Dill plants can grow quite tall.  This year they averaged 5′ with the tallest one soaring to just under 6′.

Mature Dill Seed Head
Mature Dill Seed Head
Tall  Maturing Dill Plants
Tall Maturing Dill Plants

Coriander’s small white flowers become green seed balls, which mature to a brown color.  The leaves harvested before this plant flowers are known as ‘cilantro’. I regret that the green balls are not in sharp focus–I tried.

Green Coriander Seeds
Green Coriander Seeds

Fortunately I am the only member of my household who can eat raw tomatoes–so the low crop of ripe cherry tomatoes is not a tragedy.  The peak was on August 24 when I harvested 91.  The picture below was taken a few days before the ‘peak’.  If we have some  warm sunny days in September, I may find more of these golden fruits.

Blondkopfchen Cherry Tomatoes
Blondkopfchen Cherry Tomatoes

Flower of the Day–Milkweed Flowers

In response to Cee’s June 29, 2015 Flower of the Day I am posting a picture of a milkweed flower that opened the day after I posted pictures for a June 27 weekly photo challenge (that post shows full milkweed plants with unopened buds).

  
The fragrance of the flowers is sweet and fills the whole area.  I looked up the plant in a Peterson Wildflower Field Guide for Northeastern/Northcentral North America and discovered seven types of milkweeds!  Funny how I had always assumed that a milkweed is a milkweed.  The one shown in my pictures (the one above and in the previous post) appears to be a “Common Milkweed”. I guess “common” refers to the frequency of its occurrence rather than its lack of interest…as I find its clusters of tiny flowers to be quite exquisite.

My photo muse is the garden

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Muse.”

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The vegetable garden inspires me to pull out my iPhone and take a few pics to record its ever changing landscape. Two shots taken earlier today show wild milkweed that I have allowed to flourish behind the main garden. Why? to nourish and attract monarch butterflies, a threatened species. In the centre of the shot to the right you can see a sorrel plant. Besides being a perennial, one of those lovely plants that just appear in the spring, sorrel is a cross between a herb and a salad green. The leaves have a tangy lemony flavour, providing an accent to salads, soups, pestos, salad dressings, sauces and so on.

Here is another milkweed photo showing the newly formed pink bud clusters:
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