How can something that smells so lovely, have beautiful blossoms, and be the only source of food for the monarch butterfly, be called a weed?
Over the past few years we have decided to let the some of our property re-wild itself, no lawn cutting, no weeding, no planting. That area is now covered with grasses, wildflowers, wild raspberry bushes, lilacs, and milkweed. On summer mornings, just as the sun is warming the ground, the fragrance of fully blossoming milkweed is indescribable. This is the first summer in several years that I have been able to witness a return of the monarch butterfly to our property. I spotted that telltale bright orange and black wing one morning and returned quickly to the house to get my camera. I watched it flit from wildflower to wildflower in the naturalized area of our yard. Imagine my surprise when a second monarch appeared. They appear to be territorial, as the first butterfly seemed to put the run on the latecomer.
In the spring of 2014 the Ontario Ministry of Food and Agriculture removed milkweed from the Weed Control Act’s noxious weed list, a list that made it mandatory for landowners to remove milkweed if it was accessible to livestock, or in competition with crops. It was considered toxic to livestock if it was consumed in large quantities. Removal of milkweed from the list was partly in response to the decline of the monarch butterfly, which needs the plant to feed, lay eggs, and complete its life cycle in North America prior to migrating to Mexico for the winter.
Although parts of the plant can be toxic, it is not toxic to the monarch, but does make the monarch butterfly less appetizing to predators. Landowners are now encouraged to plant milkweed in order to attract monarch butterflies. If you have space on your property perhaps you could plant milkweed and be fortunate enough to see the monarch butterfly return to your property as well. You will also know that you are helping to support the monarch population, which is currently at a 20 year low.
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