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The World of Milkweed

Monarch Caterpillar Battling Swump Milkweed Leaf Beetle - (c) 2016 Sharp-Eatman Nature Photography

          When you pass a stand of common milkweed, stop and lean closer to observe the bees and butterflies buzzing and fluttering among the flowers.  You will see that milkweed is not just a plant:  it is a world, a microcosm in which an intricate ecosystem interweaves the lives of plants and pollinators.  Lean in a little closer, and you'll notice that pale pink milkweed has a heavenly, intoxicating scent, as alluring to humans as it is to butterflies.


        Rockefeller State Park Preserve is home to three different species of milkweed -- common milkweed, orange butterfly weed and swamp milkweed.  The leaves of these plants provide sustenance for a variety of small creatures. Red milkweed longhorn beetles and milkweed bugs evolved in tandem with milkweed and feed exclusively on its leaves.  Gaily-colored swamp milkweed leaf beetles specialize in eating the leaves of swamp milkweed. Milkweed sap is toxic to many mammals and birds, but some butterflies, such as monarchs, benefit from this fact:  the milkweed-leaf diet of monarch caterpillars makes the adult butterflies noxious to birds, who avoid eating them.  Thus milkweed provides enduring protection to a butterfly that needs to elude predators as it migrates thousands of miles each year.


      When milkweed blooms, many species of bees, butterflies and other insects feed on the nectar of the flowers and gather their pollen.  After milkweed blossoms, its pods produce fine seeds attached to cottony fibers that catch the wind, spreading the seeds far and wide.  Bees and birds gather the fibers for nesting materials, and milkweed bugs make homes in the silky linings of milkweed pods. 


      We hope that you enjoy the bug's-eye view of the world of a milkweed shown in these photographs.

All Photos & text Copyright 2014-2015 Paula Sharp & Ross Eatman.  For use of photos, see  Permissions.
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