Most of us learned about the special relationship between monarch butterflies and milkweed plants when we were young children — and just about anytime I look in our garden, monarchs sail among the milkweed. Females lay eggs on the underside of leaves and monarchs of both genders sip the plant’s sweet nectar. But milkweed isn’t just for monarchs! It also provides a place for many other creatures: A few that are immune to its toxicity eat it; others drink its nectar, depend on it for reproduction, watch for a meal, or simply rest. Here’s a sampling of critters living in our backyard milkweed in early August. What’s in your milkweed patch??
The adult red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) eats milkweed leaves, buds and flowers. Its larvae eat the plant’s roots.
The Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) eats the seed pods, stems and leaves of milkweed.
A hover fly or flower fly (Syrphidae).
An eastern yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons) hunts for small insect pests to eat.
Honey bees (Apis millifera) favor the sweet milkweed nectar.
Bumble bees (Bombus) of several different species are attracted to milkweed blossoms.
A red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) sips milkweed nectar.
I never tire of seeing monarchs (Danaus plexippus) nectar on milkweed blossoms.
Insects aren’t the only critters to favor milkweed nectar. Ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) frequently drink it, too.
Monarch butterflies are rare this summer. I’ve seen just one in our St. Paul, MN, garden, even as monarda, swamp milkweed, common milkweed, black-eyed Susan’s, Joe-Pye weed, phlox and a blend of other native plants and garden perennials bloom. However, we have no shortage of milkweed to nurture monarch caterpillars if they were present. A lush patch of common milkweed (Asclepia syriaca) grows in our yard, possibly the best-ever since I spotted the first plant shooting up in the middle of a juniper hedge 15 years ago. The first milkweed blossom opened on July 7 and most of the plants were flowering by July 17.
Milkweed buds and blossom.
Though monarchs are absent, red milkweed beetles, bumble bees and ruby-throated hummingbirds frequent our patch.
Red milkweed beetle on swamp milkweed.
Ruby-throated hummingbird sips milkweed nectar.
On July 22, I noticed the first seed pods. New pods continue to form and the earliest pods have plumped-up in the past week.
Newly formed milkweed seed pods.