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FutureStarrA How to Care for Milkweed
Help the milkweed population by harvesting milkweed pods, leaves, and seeds and planting them wherever they are needed. Then sit back and watch all of the little fellows grow.Milkweed is a much overlooked plant in the gardening world. The many varieties of milkweed plants bloom with both subtle and bright colors, and the whole milkweed plant is vital to the life cycle of Monarch butterflies as their sole host plant, and has also been used as a food source by Native American tribes. Yet, it is often not even considered by many gardeners, perhaps because of the word “weed” in its name. Local seeds work best. Native milkweed is not only better for monarchs (due to disease transmission on tropical milkweed), but it is also easier to grow! Showy milkweed and narrow leaf milkweed are native to Central Oregon and adapted to our climate. When growing milkweed from seed, make sure you have native! If you live in Central Oregon, let us know and we'll send you showy milkweed seed packets! Then, take a look at our showy milkweed planting instructions.
“Despite this small increase, monarch populations are still severely jeopardized by milkweed loss in their summer breeding grounds due to increasing herbicide use on genetically-engineered crops,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety. “We will continue to do everything we can to ensure monarchs are protected under the Endangered Species Act.”The butterfly’s dramatic decline has been driven in large part by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born. The vast majority of genetically engineered crop acres are in varieties made to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The dramatic surge in the use of Roundup and other herbicides with the same active ingredient (glyphosate) with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwest corn and soybean fields. In the past 20 years it is estimated that these once-common, iconic orange-and-black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca): Common milkweed was once an ubiquitous roadside weed, but with the increased use of herbicides, it’s not so common anymore. The large, round globes of common milkweed flowers are a favorite of many pollinators, and its broad leaves always play host to many monarch caterpillars in my own backyard. But, this plant comes with a warning: It is an extremely aggressive spreader, forming large colonies that spread not just by seed, but also by underground roots called rhizomes. You’ll want to give common milkweed plenty of room. It’s hardy from zones 3-9 and reaches up to 6 feet in height. You can buy seeds of common milkweed here. Plants bloom from early summer to frost on tall, sturdy flower stems growing from the clusters of leaves in axillary and terminal racemes that somewhat resemble lavender. Dark blue, light blue, purple, or white flowers are borne in dense whorls along each 4- to 8-inch long flower spike. Each flower has the 5 lobes and 2 lips typical of the salvias. They are up to ¾ inch long with 2 stamens and 1 pistil. Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds find the lightly fragrant (often described as grape scented) flowers very attractive. The flower spikes can be cut to use in fresh or dried arrangements. Goldfinches will eat the seeds in the small, dry brown fruits that follow the flowers. (Source: hort.extension.wisc.edu)