June is Perennial and Pollinator Month here at Rolling Green Nursery. One very special plant that we adore is a perennial, pollinator, and a North American native: Milkweed. As caterpillars, Monarchs feed exclusively on the leaves of Asclepias (commonly known as Milkweed), and simply cannot survive without it. Milkweed produces glycoside toxins to deter animals from eating them, but Monarchs have developed an immunity to these toxins. As they feed, they store up the toxins in their body, making them taste bad, which in turn deters their predators. The toxins remain in their system even after metamorphosis, protecting them as adult butterflies as well. Monarchs then feed on nectar from a wide range of blooming native plants as adults.
“The annual migration of North America’s monarch butterfly is a unique and amazing phenomenon. The monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration as birds do,” reports the U.S. Forest Service. “Monarchs migrate from the U.S. and Canada to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, and feed on Milkweeds and other plants as they travel.”
You help them by setting up a Monarch Way Station in your yard where they can find food along their journey. We carry Swamp Milkweed and Common Milkweed. And we also carry Asclepias tuberosa, with lovely bright orange blossoms. We also have have seed packets if you prefer to grow them that way. These are very popular plants so if you visit us and they have sold out, please be patient as we restock them. We encourage you to leave any Common Milkweed you find in your yard alone. It was once considered a nuisance weed, but we now know what an important role it plays in supporting Monarchs, which have been in rapid decline.
And don’t worry: Your Milkweed plants will not be destroyed by caterpillars munching on them either, so you can enjoy them as useful and beautiful perennials without worry.