Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Milkweed: A High Priority Bee, Butterfly, and Hummingbird Plant

Peter holds up the flowers on a milkweed plant in the Hastings Urban Farm

There are so many reasons to plant milkweed, we really should make it a priority pollinator plant in our gardens. It's integral to Monarch butterfly migration, but also to other species of butterflies and it is an important source of nectar for bees and hummingbirds.

Milkweed is an incredibly complicated plant with an unusual flower and pollen morphology. The pollen comes in chains, not grains, and sometimes bees get a foot caught in the flower.  I've freed a few foot-stuck bees while taking photos of milkweed.

A honeybee and beetle feast on milkweed at the UBC Botanical Garden

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has just published a great article on milkweeds. Now, besides being a hummingbird plant, why would the bird researchers study milkweed? Because birds eat monarchs and other butterflies. You may have read that monarchs are unpalatable to birds, but this is also more complicated than it was commonly thought to be. Milkweeds are New World plants, but be aware that there are tropical milkweeds that are not the best choice for your garden. Try to find native and near-native varieties to plant from your bio-region.

A milkweed plant goes to seed at the Summerland Ornamental Gardens

 This article from Monarch Butterfly Garden also links to a great article on seed-saving for milkweeds. And brings me to the main reason for this blog post. Someone reminded me another great reason to plant them. Kids absolutely love the seeds! Also, if you are packaging little gifts for the holidays, why not choose organza bags instead of paper? Tuck a little note in with the present to tip the giftee that they can save the bag and use it to collect milkweed seeds. Better yet, give your loved ones a package of milkweed seeds in an organza  seed-saving bag!

This article from Monarch Butterfly Garden describes 25 milkweed varieties to choose from. Prairie Moon Nursery sells at least 9 varieties and they always have excellent information on how to plant wildflower seeds.

And stay tuned for another blog post where I invite you to join us at Moberly Arts and Cultural Centre to sew reusable gift bags. (Bring your own organza!)

Warning: Although parts of the plant are edible, milkweed is a toxic plant, so special signage and instruction is needed to prevent people from ingesting it.

No comments:

Post a Comment