Friday, August 22, 2008

More Milkweed Stuff

I thought that I was pretty much done for the summer with new milkweed finds in our yard...but I find that I was wrong.

Last week I briefly looked into the bottomland area, not expecting to see much except giant ragweed, massive quantities of poison ivy and maybe some smartweed. However, I noticed some 4-6' tall plants with pretty pink puffs of flowers on the top. Way too tall for smartweed. Closer inspection surprised me - they were obviously milkweed blossoms. I had discovered a dozen or so swamp milkweeds (Asclepias incarnata)!

How did I miss that many pretty, fragrant, tall flowering plants last summer?! I'm blaming it on the poison ivy thickets that were viciously guarding the lowlands. Prairiewolf has been working hard to fight them back for the last 2 summers. Obviously he's making some serious progress, and this is one of the benefits of his work.

The next discovery came a few days ago. I was doing a walkabout, not finding much new, when I decided to check out some uninteresting looking white blooms about 20' away from the path. They just looked like nondescript "weeds", but...more milkweeds! At first I thought this was whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), but upon further study, it looks more like plains milkweed (Asclepias pumila). There's not a lot of information on plains milkweed, so I want to look a little farther, but I'm going to tentatively identify it this way for now.

Last of all, yesterday I finally found a monarch caterpillar while I had my camera in hand. He was busy chowing down on smooth milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii). From his size, I would guess that he was close to pupating, and I like to think that he will be one of the monarchs making the long migration down to Mexico this fall.

Many of the milkweeds around the yard are suddenly full of aphids, but they're beginning to look bedraggled in other ways too. Some of their leaves are turning yellow and falling off. A few plants, especially the green antelopehorn, are even dying back. They've bloomed and released their seeds; their work is done for this year. One more sign that summer is coming to a close.
The seasons are whirling by. Next year I'll know that I can chart their course by following the sequential development of the 8 milkweed species (and their associated insect pals) currently calling our 10 acres home. For me, it's a deeply satisfying way of measuring time's passage.

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