By Jim Gilbert
During the last couple of years we have noticed a big decline in the numbers of monarch butterflies, the official Minnesota state butterfly since 2000. There are several reasons for this but one is the decrease in numbers of milkweed plants that are the feeding and growing places for their caterpillars.
Since milkweeds are key to the monarch’s survival be sure to encourage the growth of them in your yard and garden, and along roadsides and other areas.
If you enjoy the perfume of flowers, this is the time to get close to the fragrant flower clusters of the common milkweed. About 30 to 60 individual flowers are found in drooping dull-purple clusters that are rich in nectar and attract many pollinators. A native perennial plant growing 3 to 4 feet tall, the common milkweed is also the most familiar milkweed plant. It can be found in meadows and fields, always in full sunlight. The plant grows wild from New Brunswick to Saskatchewan, southward to Georgia and Kansas.
A striking peculiarity of the plant is the large amount of milky-white sticky juice that pours out of the slightest wound to a stem, flower or leaf. This milky juice is not the sap of the plant. It is a special secretion and quite distasteful, which is the reason grazing animals avoid the milkweed. It served some early European settlers as glue. Also, settlers used the long silky threads on the seeds to stuff pillows and mattresses, and during World War I, children were paid a penny a pound for the milkweed silk, which was used to stuff life preservers. Young stems, leaves, pods and flower buds have sometimes been cooked like asparagus. Although the milky juice is bitter and mildly toxic, both of these properties can be eliminated by boiling, using several changes of water.
Common milkweed plants have thick, oblong, gray-green opposite leaves in summer, and open pods in fall and winter. Only bees seem able to pollinate the flowers, even though flies, butterflies and other insects are attracted to the flowers. The pollination is extremely intricate.
If one observes and compares the number of blossoms on a milkweed stem with the number of pods it bears, it becomes apparent that only a few of the flowers become fertilized.
What’s happening outdoors now?
We are still in the midst of the strawberry season. Growers report that the season is about 3 weeks later than normal. Strawberries are the most popular backyard garden fruit in America, requiring little room to grow and not much attention, but producing a lot of mouth-watering fruit that is high in vitamin C. In perennial gardens, daylilies, true lilies, delphinium, and purple coneflowers have showy flowers.
The surface temperatures of area lakes are above 70 degrees, the cut-off for safe swimming. Lake Waconia water level is up about 20 inches since ice-out, so no wake restrictions continue. Ben Mase from the In Towne Marina, on the south side of the lake, reports that sunfish, largemouth bass and some walleyes are biting.
On July 10 a year ago
We had a sunny day with a low temperature of 63 and a high of 83 degrees. The surface temperature of Lake Waconia was a warm 80 degrees and perfect for swimming. Native basswood trees had reached their peak of bloom, and red mulberry fruit was ripe and ripening.
Gardeners harvested zucchini, green beans, leaf lettuce and strawberries. Much of the field corn was up 3 to 5 feet and soybeans up a foot. Annual cicadas had been buzzing for four days, and mosquitoes continued to be bothersome.