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Milkweeds & Monarchs

Earlier this spring I spent an afternoon ripping up thorny, invasive plants and planted various flower bulbs in hopes that they’ll propagate and provide lots of color and cut flowers for vases over the years. So I’ve been keeping a close eye on that wild little patch looking for any signs of success. I noticed some tall, thick plants with large, broad leaves. Were these one of the random bulbs? I didn’t think so but what were they?

Yesterday I noticed one had bloomed a delightful, bouncy, floppy head of little flowers with more ripe for blossoming. They certainly had not been there in the last several years. These are big gorgeous globes of silly pink blooms. No way I wouldn’t have noticed them, even back when I mainlined gimlets.

I uploaded pics to Garden Answers Plant ID app (10/10 would recommend) and discovered this is a Milkweed. And from there, I tumbled down the internet rabbit hole and discovered that Monarch butterflies are endangered because they feed exclusively on milkweed and the milkweed is endangered because humans. God, we suck.

As it turns out, the milkweed is a remarkable plant. Ignore the weed in the name, trust me, I spent my entire night off learning (and now writing) about this genus. This versatile plant and its floss has been used for medicine and food and filler for life jackets. What?! Yeah. No kidding. Back in 1944, during WWII, the silk became a critically urgent need as it took two bags of pods to make one life vest. So, the Commodity Credit Corporation of the U. S. D. A. created a “Milkweed Floss Division of the War Hemp Industries” (I’m not making this up!) and launched a campaign to collect and donate pods. The CCC USDA MFDWHI worked in conjunction with the Department of Education, to recruit school kids to help and used slogans like “Two Bags Save One Life”. Brilliant. It takes a village to topple a regime, ya know?

I’m delighted to have discovered it growing naturally. And, like in the 40s, there are active campaigns to help collect milkweed pods not for a war effort but by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service & others to spread the seeds and bring the dwindling milkweed population back up to snuff thereby helping the monarch butterfly.

So, I spent my Wednesday night learning all about how to do that and here’s what I’m gonna do: This fall, I’m going to collect the pods from my plants. Empty the contents of the seed pods inside a paper bag and put in a couple of pennies, close the bag and shake. The pennies will separate the seeds and then I’ll make seed bombs. I’m going to give them to you and you’re gonna plant them to save a butterfly so you can sleep better tonight. Cool? Let me know if you want a seed bomb. If you don’t, I presume you have no access to a yard or you’re a butterfly hating monster. Meanwhile, enjoy pictures of this wonderful plant, the Milkweed (genus Asclepias).

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