What is milkweed?

Besides being beautiful and relaxing to watch, monarch butterflies, one of approximately 20,000 species of butterflies, rarely cause any damage to commercial plants and contribute heavily towards a thriving ecosystem . Their presence or absences also helps determine the state of the ecosystem’s health. Butterflies also play a vital role in pollinating flowers Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed. Monarch caterpillars need milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.) to grow and develop, and female monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed. With changing land management practices, the eastern part of the United States has lost much milkweed from the landscape, so planting milkweed is one way to help other pollinators, as milkweed provides nectar resources to a diverse variety of bees and butterflies. Milkweed is neither milk nor a weed, but rather a plant that exudes a sticky white sap that oozes from damaged leaves. It is a native wildflower that is found in North Americas fields and wetlands and is the monarch’s sole host plant. It grows from two to five or six feet in height and produces little star-shaped flowers in a variety of colors from yellow and green to pink or orange. In fall, the flowers split open and release hundreds of seeds for future plants. Besides butterflies and bees, it attracts may varieties of birds, primarily hummingbirds. The butterfly lays her eggs on the underside of the leaves and the larvae feed on the leaves after hatching, without causing damage to the plant. At the same time the toxic chemicals in the plant make both the caterpillars and adult butterflies unappetizing to predators. Plants require full sun and should be planted where their growth can be controlled as they can be spread easily. Refrigerating seeds at this time of year equals the cold moist conditions seeds endure to produce germination in the spring and a display of flowers the following summer. Milkweed should be planted in groups of six or more to attract butterflies. They require minimal care . While the toxins in the sap protect the butterflies from predators, they could cause eye or skin irritation and can be poisonous to some pets if ingested in significant amounts

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