How Swamp Milkweed benefits a variety of pollinators

| Education, General

by Anne Gneo ✎

DURING THE SUMMER OF 2023, observing the diversity of life taking advantage of the resources provided by Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) became a daily activity. Every day brought new discoveries.

The swamp milkweed emerged as the weather warmed in spring, continuing to grow to 4-5 feet and blooming in mid-June. The pollinators arrived, including numerous types of bees, wasps and butterflies sharing space with each other and staying until the last bloom faded two months later.

By mid-July, the milkweed bugs began to take residence and continued to multiply often covering a seedpod. Surprisingly, the majority of the seedpods were minimally damaged and produced healthy seeds despite the milkweed bugs gathering on them.

The end of August brough the tussock caterpillars. Dozens arrived and completely defoliated a large swamp milkweed plant. After a couple of weeks, they disappeared as quickly as they arrived. The swamp milkweed, unfazed, began to grow new leaves.

The star of the show, the monarch butterfly, arrived on August 1st to deposit the first eggs. Caterpillars followed, ate voraciously, and formed chrysalises. The lucky ones that successfully transformed into butterflies, laid more eggs and the cycle repeated. By early September, it was common to find assorted sizes of caterpillars and multiple hidden chrysalises during the daily check-in.

Throughout the summer, a variety of additional insects were spotted including aphids, lantern flies, lady bugs and a praying mantis. Not all the visitors were native insects, but there was a balance where everyone including the host was able to find what it needed.

The season is coming to an end and the swamp milkweed is not the traditionally beautiful, showy plant it was in July. It has been through a lot this summer and provided so much to so many. Preparing to rest for the winter, its leaves are yellowing and the last of the seeds are dispersing. Spring will bring fresh foliage and a new season of life. ❀