Monarch butterflies (not to be confused with Catholic Monarchs, such as Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, who sponsored the exploration of the New World by Christopher Columbus) require milkweed plants to survive. In fact, Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed. But the breakfast table can easily become the lunch and dinner counter too. Each individual flower in a milkweed blossom has a rich nectar to attract, sustain, and sometimes detain, as the petal structure can ensnare insect legs. During the autumn months, many adult butterflies migrate and overwinter in the forests of Mexico.
Herbicides and Deforestation Threaten Milkweed
…and as the milkweed goes, so goes the Monarch butterfly!
Often taken for granted, nature’s beauty can enrich our lives, teaching us to appreciate quiet moments and encouraging us to be still even while the world tells us to stay busy.
To sustain nature’s abundance—it is not a guaranteed commodity, after all—may require a bit of appreciation and a bit more of thoughtful cultivation. A few garden plantings would be a good start. The wide waxy leaves and lavender flowers as seen here, or other varieties of greenish white or deep orange color, will attract bees too, maybe even honeybees, which are also on the decline.
After the flowers have wilted and the harvest past, I have used milkweed pods for crafts: a little artistry make a cute santa claus or elf, or, adorned with a few wiry whiskers and felt ears, the pods can look like field mice that are hungry enough to eat a piece of cheese.
My simple crafts are cute, but indigenous peoples of American repurposed milkweed into indispensable household items, like thread, twine, rope, nets, baskets, belts, shoes….
Milkweed plants would have been gathered in late summer or early autumn, long before the first frost. The fibers could then be twisted to make lengths of thread. Two lengths crossed and spliced with more thread and then crossed again would eventually become strong cord that could be woven into something durable, artful, and practical! The pantry was also enhanced when certain milkweed blossoms were shaken and released of their honeydew. This was then dried and used as a sweetener. Additionally, the stalk’s milky substance is said to help remove warts!
The Practical and the Beautiful
If you want to incorporate milkweed into your landscape, or if you are interested in learning more about Native American weaving techniques, below are a few websites I found helpful.
Pueblo Indian Weaving
Native American Cordage
Milkweed Seed Finder
Creating Monarch Butterfly Habitats
Instructional (and really fun) Monarch Video
And everything else you ever wanted to know about milkweed…