If you are a monarch butterfly—and I envy you if you are—but be forewarned, life is beautiful and short. But if you are a monarch, (Danaus plexippus), you probably already know this: common milkweed is in bloom.
Milkweed is a robust perennial that can grow up to six feet tall, so it’s no shrinking violet, it’s a rather “in your face” kind of wildflower.
When broken the hairy stems produce a milky, white latex that looks like Elmer’s glue and tastes like my homemade gravy.
Monarch butterflies are foul-tasting, even toxic. (I have never worked up the courage to eat a monarch butterfly to test this, maybe someday I will.)
Monarch caterpillars eat milkweed leaves which renders them unpalatable, much like my gravy. Blue jays know this and avoid the bright orange and black lepidopterans like they were bad restaurants on the wrong side of town. The kind of places you used to frequent at 3 a.m. when you were in college because you were still up at that hour and hunger.
The insect’s toxicity is due to the presence of “cardenolide aglycones” in their bodies, which the caterpillars ingest as they feed on the plants.
Milkweed likes to grow in sandy soils, basking in full sun.