On a farm, any plant with “weed” at the end of its name is an enemy to be destroyed. Pigweed, ragweed, pineappleweed, bindweed, knotweed, chickweed all come to bad end at our hands. So did milkweed.
But now milkweed has emerged as the hero of the Monarch butterfly, the only thing their larvae eat before they pupate and turn into butterflies. With the loss of milkweed comes the loss of Monarchs.
Monarch butterflies live life on an epic scale. For all their size, they survive about eight months in the wild and migrate all the way from Canada to Mexico for the winter. Then another generation migrates north again, a truly remarkable trek for a creature that weighs half a gram. Along the way, they need to lay eggs and reproduce. The caterpillars need milkweed to eat.
Herbicides, agribiz, logging and climate change have reduced the milkweed available and hit the butterflies so hard that now the Monarchs that make it to Mexico are down to only one fifteenth of what they were as recently as 1997.
Alarmingly, the number continues to drop.
I have seen scarcely any Monarchs this year when they used to be common. I can’t stop climate change, I can’t stop agribiz so I do what I can. I save every milkweed plant I see, including the ones in the middle of my flower beds.
This is an emergency. If you want Monarchs in your garden, I suggest you start saving milkweeds too.