Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) are important to the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) because its larva feeds exclusively on it. The recent decline of the Monarch butterfly population has sparked an interest saving it by planting milkweed. The Friends of Patuxent is sponsoring an effort to plant milkweed on the Patuxent Research Refuge. The Patuxent Research Refuge is home to six species of Milkweed. This series of blogs will introduce them to you.
The most easily seen species of milkweed is the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.). It grows in open fields and along the side of roads throughout. There are a number of them planted by the North Tract Contact Station. The largest patch of it is under the Pepco powerlines on the Central Tract. (Click here for more details.)
The Common Milkweed is found throughout Eastern North America from Southern Canada on the north, along the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to North Carolina and northen Georgia on the east, and to the Great Plains as far west as Texas and Oklahoma. It occurs in a wide range of habitats from floodplains to dry sandy areas and waste fields. It prefers sunny locations over shade.
Chemicals in the milkweed make the larva and adult Monarch’s flesh distasteful to most predators. In addition to the Monarch, it is attractive to the milkweed bug, various other pollinators and insects.