I think that most peoples' first reaction upon hearing or reading the word 'weed' is somewhat of a negative one. Something not wanted; getting in the way; unlovely; not useful. But if you were able to ask monarch butterflies their thoughts about 'weed' - especially with the word 'milk' preceding it, as in 'milkweed' - you would only get very positive responses (if you were to get any).
Milkweed pods, seed parachutes, and milkweed bugs - early fall
Most of us have heard about the plight of the Monarchs. One scientist reported that in the last 3 years there has been a 90% decline in their population numbers. 90%! Here at The Nature Place 3 summers ago, it started to dawn on us only at the beginning of August that we had not seen a monarch (not one!), in our gardens or anywhere else, all summer. I began to ask gardeners and other outdoor people if they had seen a monarch. Many of their responses were along the lines of, "Gee, now that you mention it, I haven't." As Joanie Mitchel sang in one of her most popular songs: "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." I miss the monarchs. I always considered them an iconic part of the season - a most beautiful, royal and gentle part - of the summer's animal fare.
For a variety of reasons, i.e. habitat destruction, overuse of pesticides, there are many less milkweed plants than in the past. You might be familiar with this plant from the fall, when children blow the seeds from the pod, make a wish, and watch the seeds travel away on white, fluffy parachutes. Monarchs need milkweed plants to lay their eggs on; for the caterpillars to eat the leaves; as the site for the miracle of transformation as the caterpillar, within its magnificent chrysalis, changes into the adult butterfly; and for those butterflies to sip the nectar of the milkweed flowers.
There are different groups (The Nature Place being one) encouraging children and adults to plant more milkweed. By searching online for 'milkweed and monarchs' you can find out about these groups and what they are doing; how you can get involved; places from which to order milkweed seeds; how to plant them and care for them; and more.
For the monarchs' sake, let's think positive thoughts about 'milkweed'. Better still, let's follow those thoughts with positive actions. The Earth and the Monarchs will thank you.
~Ed Bieber is the Owner/Director of The Nature Place Day Camp. He has a B.A. degree from Rutgers University in Botany, M.S. from Michigan State University in Outdoor Education and New York State Permanent Teaching Certification, N-6. Ed has worked professionally, since 1970, with over 250,000 children (and still counting!), adults and families in the outdoors.