When I was a kid growing up in the woods of New Hampshire, milkweed plants grew in the areas that surrounded our vegetable garden. When I was 10 or 12 years old, my big brother told me the importance of these "weeds". And they were. No one planted these...they just were there, like every other fern or wild blueberry bush. Just something nature provided. My big brother taught me that in some time, toward the middle to end of the summer, we'd be able to spot some juicy, plump (but not tasty, i don't think) caterpillars that would transform into beautiful, vibrant butterflies. And that milkweed is the ONLY thing these fellas eat!
Not long after the brief introduction to this new world, I had found some caterpillars and made them a home in a jar in my bedroom. I put some milkweed in with the little transformer and to my surprise, one weekday morning, my caterpillar was gone! It had turned into the most beautiful colored green pupae and stayed that way for some time.
The anticipation killed me, because there was nothing but stillness. Then, slowly the chrysalis became clearer, and the bright colors of the new butterfly became visible. A little more time, and my own butterfly was ready to spread it's wings and join all the other creatures in the garden.
The Milkweed that grew so "weedily" in my little bit of heaven in New Hampshire, doesn't have such an easy time any more. There are numerous reasons that the population of the Monarch butterfly is decreasing, including loss of habitat and weed killers. The single best thing you can do to keep these little pollinators from going extinct, is to provide them a little habitat.
Milkweed can be planted in almost any area of your yard. It does well in most conditions. I remember them growing best in sunny areas as a kid. But as an adult, we now have them all over the yard, in all kinds of varied locations. Wet, dry, sunny and shady.
The best part of this all? You can get milkweed seeds for free and help keep our pollinators healthy and in flight for years to come.
This blog post shows you what I described doing as a child. It's a great activity for kids and nature lovers.