Friday, December 31, 2010

Milkweed and monarchs

This is an illustration I did for a friend who is a natural areas steward here in the Chicago region. It's Asclepias exaltata, or woodland milkweed. The graceful, pendant flowers and finely-textured leaves are so different from the other members of the family, but when you look at the pods and flower interior, it's clear it is a milkweed. This species is fairly rare in our region; it's closely monitored by Plants of Concern, a regional rare plant monitoring program of the Chicago Botanic Garden. I have observed small populations (one or two plants) rebound after clearing of buckthorn and other non-native invasive species of brush. I believe it's primarily an edge or even a savannah plant.

The milkweed family is host to the beautiful, orange and black monarch butterfly, which means that's all the monarch eats - no milkweed, no monarchs! Monarchs migrate from Michoacan, Mexico, up to Canada every year, but their numbers are in decline because milkweed is considered a noxious weed by farmers and ranchers. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone could allow a wild corner to help our pollinators? We need fruits and vegetables too, not just corn and beans! : )