For the Birds classic: Monarchs and milkweed

Here’s an old summer For the Birds column originally published in 2008, reprinted just because …

Photo by Chris Bosak
A monarch caterpillar eats a milkweed leaf.

Keep at something long enough and eventually you will succeed.

I learned several years ago that monarch butterflies lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed. Since that time I’ve inspected every milkweed patch I’ve come across in my wanderings in search of monarch caterpillars. That’s a lot of inspecting considering the proliferation of milkweed. It grows in wild places, it grows in gardens, it grows through cracks in the cement.

In fact, a largely overgrown and overlooked stretch of pavement near The Hour’s parking lot is filled with milkweed. One day I noticed a maintenance worker about to weed-whack the entire patch to the ground. I asked the president of The Hour to intercede and he graciously allowed the patch to grow wild, despite its unsightliness (to an untrained eye, anyway.) For the rest of that summer the ugly, often ignored patch of weeds was dubbed “The Chris Bosak Monarch Refuge.” A makeshift sign made by co-workers marked it as so.

The sign is long gone, but the milkweed remains. Every day I drive by the weeds and never once have I seen a monarch caterpillar. In fact, never had I found a monarch caterpillar on any milkweed, no matter the location. I was zero-for-six million in terms of finding a monarch caterpillar. Not a very good average.

Before I go on, let me explain my desire to find a monarch caterpillar. Simply put, they’re cool looking. They’re large, colorful, exquisitely decorated.

Finally, as if you haven’t guessed already, I found one. I wasn’t necessarily looking for it, which is to say I wasn’t inspecting the plant, but I did look at the milkweed as it has become a habit over the years. These days I just look at milkweed without even thinking about it.

Turns out there was no careful inspection necessary to find this caterpillar. I just looked Continue reading

For the Birds column: Milkweed and Monarchs

Photo by Chris Bosak Milkweed flowers bud in a meadow in Stamford, July 2015.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Milkweed flowers bud in a meadow in Stamford, July 2015.

Here’s my latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, CT) and The Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire.

Why do so many people consider milkweed a useless weed?

Perhaps because it is so prevalent (or at least used to be). Perhaps because it grows in vacant parking lots and in cracks in sidewalks. Perhaps because that’s what we’ve been told and trained to think all these years. Or it could be because is has the word ‘weed’ right in its name.

Whatever the reason it’s time to change the way we think about milkweed. Here are some quick facts about the beautiful and valuable plant:

Click here for the rest of the column.