The milkweed is regaining its status as a milkweed "plant." Remember the adage, "A weed is a plant that is out of place," like a corn plant in a bean field. The growing knowledge of the importance of the milkweed plant concludes it should no longer be considered "out of place."
In colonial times, the "down" was spun into candlewicks for use in lighting. During World War II, milkweed pods were collected by school children as part of the war effort. The "down" was used for insulating bomber jackets. Today, the "down" is desired for its hypoallergenic quality, making it desirable for children's pillows.
Another population dependent upon it is the monarch butterfly, which lays its eggs on the milkweed plant that then provides food for the monarch's caterpillar stage.
There are a variety of reasons for the rapid decline of the monarch butterfly. Roadside mowing is probably No. 1. Fences are removed and the roadside is mowed several times during the summer. This is very destructive for the monarchs who need a place to rest and lay eggs. They travel some 1,500 miles from Canada to Mexico. Scientists who have counted monarchs in the millions are no longer sure of their return.
We must do all we can to protect this important pollinator. A local Whiteside County group collected many bags of milkweed pods this past summer. The result was only 5 pounds of clean seed. The seed was sent to a nursery in Minnesota for propagation.
There is a simple solution that can be applied locally – allow the milkweed plant to grow. Include it in flower gardens and enjoy the beauty of the butterflies close at hand.
Delay roadside mowing until late in the fall when the butterflies are no longer in need of the milkweed plant.