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Monday, May 21, 2012

Common Milkweed

          I spent this morning working in my yard. My wrists and fingers are now stiff and the palm of my right hand has a large flat blister from the handle of my weeding tool. Every year I think I should have fewer weeds since I work so diligently to rid my yard of the annoying vegetation throughout the growing season, but each spring I find a bumper crop of unwanted plants in my garden, beds, and lawn. As I was bending over a patch of green in my garden, I suddenly recognized the shape and pattern of the leaves of a six-inch-high seedling and I paused with my weeding tool poised in midair. Should I leave it and allow it to grow or yank the sucker out?

            My friend, Lynette Hepworth, and I had a fort in a canal south of my house where the milkweed grew along the ditch bank and corral fence. In early June the milkweed began to flower with big pinkish purple globes made up of smaller, individual flowers which attracted bees and butterflies. A few weeks later we would notice striped caterpillars growing fatter and longer as they feasted on the large fuzzy leaves. As the weather heated up, some of the chewed leaves sported green chrysalises hanging from them which eventually opened to reveal bright orange butterflies. We felt like entomologists as we witnessed the metamorphic stages of the Monarch within the realm of our fortress.

            Butterflies love the common milkweed. That is one reason I considered leaving the plantlet to grown amongst my tomatoes and cantaloupe, but a second reason was the memory of how creative Lynette and I were with the milkweed plants in our ditch all those years ago. We discovered the milky-like latex substance running through the vascular tissue of the milkweed is a useful glue. Breaking a stock gave us enough sticky white sap to affix our artwork  and notes to the trees and fence posts along the edges of our fort. As the milkweed continued to mature, the seed pods grew larger in size and developed thicker walls.  Split pods functioned as cups for sand, pebbles, and small shells we found in the ditch. We had quite an assortment of pods lining the ditch bank filled with our collections. The most wonderful thing about milkweed was the fluffy fibers attached to the seeds. Hours were spent splitting open the pods, allowing the fuzz to dry and then setting the silky stuff free on the breeze. We made up stories about princesses in ball gowns, raging snowstorms, billowing clouds, and downy kittens and puppies while propelling  milkweed seeds from our hands. It was more fun than blowing bubbles as we watched the milkweed fluff float away. Lynette and I are probably responsible for propagating a milkweed explosion across Millard County that causes problems for ranchers and farmers to this very day. Perhaps the sprout I found this morning here in Weber County is a descendant of a milkweed that grew in Hinckley more than forty years ago…

            These thoughts and memories flashed through my mind as I stood over a volunteer plant rooted in my garden. Somehow the common milkweed didn't seem quite so common at that moment.


Tina said...

Ah yes! The milkweed, haven't seen one for years :)

And the next time my children wonder what we did without video games and the like . . . I'll read them this post . . . what we could do with just the environment around us!

You reminded me why my fingers hurt today, I was wondering what I did to them and had completely forgotten my diggings in my yard the other day, mystery solved!

wendy said...

I wonder if I'd recognize a milkweed if I saw one.
Love the Monarch butterflies...the elementary school my kids all went to , their mascot was "THE MONARCHS"

Weeding is such a chore. We havent even begun to "establish" our garden and flower beds around here yet.
We thought we'd get the garden in, then hubby broke his arm.