These plants offer the most important means of sustaining Monarch butterflies. The delicate yet amazingly strong butterflies - which migrate up to 3,000 miles each year from the eastern United States to Mexico – lay their eggs in just one place: on milkweed plants. The milkweed plant is the only food source that monarch caterpillars can eat. They need it to survive and turn into the iconic butterflies. Once butterflies, they can eat a wider variety of nectars.
Milkweed also is an important source of nectar for native bees, wasps and other nectar-consuming insects.
The plants have dwindled due to loss of habitat, herbicide use and drought.
The plant’s common name comes from sticky white sap that oozes from leaves when they are damaged. The plant contains cardiac glycoside poisons. The plant’s toxins can be harmful or deadly if consumed in large amounts. So keep pets and children away from the plants. The toxins have been used on poisoned arrows for hunting and warfare. The sap can also cause mild dermatitis, so gardening gloves should be used when handling. And do not get the sap in your eyes.
Milkweed is also grown for commercial uses, which include hypoallergenic filling in pillows and insulation in coats. And it has been used to clean up oil spills.
(Information and photo sources: Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center; US Fish and Wildlife Service, photographer Tom Koerner. Save Our Monarchs. The National Wildlife Federation. The Florida Museum of Natural History. The Xerces Society. Wikipedia. Britannica.com.)