I’ll admit that the combination of a schedule with limited free time and a yard that is about two acres in size makes it difficult to keep up with more than only the most rudimentary tending. This means that I am often fighting a less than decisive battle against enemies such as burdock, lambs quarter, and the hated Chinese mulberry. Depending upon which point in the summer one views the yard, the state of my struggle can be more or less evident.

But though there are many weeds against which I battle, the one which gets a complete pass from me is milkweed.

milkweed in the yard

milkweed in the flower bed

This is not because they are a thing of great visual appeal in and of themselves. While not unattractive in the way that a burdock or lambs quarter is, (and they do flower, though not in a particularly showy fashion), they have things going for them that the others simply do not.

The flowers are a food source for bees and similar pollinators and, given that we are in an era of decline for honeybees, it seems reasonable to lean towards maintaining things that support them (we grow other flowers as well, and don’t treat for things like dandelions). But the chief benefit is, of course, that these plants are a food source for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars.

When we first moved back here one of the things that surprised me were the sheer volume of butterflies, monarch and otherwise, that we had in the summer. These range from your basic butter-pats to a variety of multi-colored visitors.

They are painfully difficult to get good pictures of, but very occasionally I get lucky.

Painted Lady

This one, a type which I see often, appears to be a painted lady according to this Insect Identification website. The site indicates that painted lady caterpillars preferred foods are thistles, and that they "also eat the leaves of mallows, hollyhock and burdock plants". We don’t see much by way of hollyhocks, but thistles, mallows, and the hateful burdock are certainly plentiful in the area.

As for the Monarch’s themselves and their relationship with the milkweed, I was lucky enough to catch a couple of shots of (what I believe are) Monarch caterpillars in action the other day:

Monarch Caterpillar

Monarch Caterpillar under leaf

The milkweeds are also home to a variety of other critters. I can frequently spot Milkweed Beetles, a critter that looks a little like a giant, misshapen ladybug, and which I’d neither seen nor heard of before till moving back out here.

Milkweed Beetle

Milkweed Beetles Mating

(Of course, I assume that what is going on in the second picture is that the beetle on bottom is sick, and the one on top is trying to help her get to the hospital...)

I’ve seen spiders hiding in between the closely gathered top leaves and, unfortunately, have also found batches of earwigs. On at least one occasion the spider and the earwigs were in the same general area, which gives me a tiny bit of hope (there are few animals or insects that I truly dislike, but earwigs are definitely on that list).

This process of exploration and discovery often helps to soothe, at least for a little while, the frustration of trying (and failing) to keep up with the tending of the big yard. There are amazing and interesting things to see around each corner, and under every leaf.