Monday, July 21, 2014

Milkweed pollinators

Milkweeds are well known as the host plant for Monarch butterflies.  It is also an nectar source for many, many other insects.  This summer I have spent a lot of time in my garden monitoring my milkweed for Monarch caterpillars (none so far.)  The rewards for that effort has been witnessing a host of other amazing "bugs" in my yard and garden.

Giant Swallowtail nectars on my garden Milkweed patch.
This Giant Swallowtail butterfly was very fresh, nary a mar or mark upon it.  It must have recently eclosed from its chysalis. As a caterpillar this swallowtail probably fed upon the Prickley-ash in my yard.  By offering both host and nectar plants, my opportunities for butterfly watching and photography are greatly increased. Watching one of these seven inch large butterflies never gets old!

The Banded Hairsteak quietly goes about its business.
This Banded Hairstreak is a much, much smaller butterfly.  These diminutive insects require a good macro lens camera or a magnifying glass to identify.  There are numerous hairstreak species and the Banded is fairly common one.  It is a challenge sort hairstreaks to species. Advice to beginners: start with the size of the red and blue color cells.  They alone are often diagnostic.

Death trap to bees.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a robust plant, so no whimpy pollinators need apply.  It has a nasty habit of capturing little bees in "leg hold" traps. The pollinia of the milkweed is sticky and can hold a weaker bee in place. Not all bees get trapped, but if you look at enough milkweed, someday you will find one of these little guys hanging upside-down.  I have never seen a butterfly trapped by this mechanism, so lepidoptera (the butterfly family) must be better suited for the pollination of milkweed.

What are you finding on your milkweed plants?
If you are interested in learning more about milkweeds or pollinators,  I highly recommend the Midwest Native Plant Conference.  You will hear extremely knowledgeable speakers from all across Ohio and beyond.

One of my favorite resources for milkweed and pollinator information is Bob Klips of OSU.  Please check out this link on Bob's Brain on Botany.  Bob is also a speaker at this year's MWNP conference.  See you in Dayton!


  1. I had no idea that small bees could get trapped! Thank you for this interesting information - I'll watch for these unfortunate little ones.

  2. Thanks for the comment Lisa. I hope you read Bob's article too. You need to scan through a couple to get to the one that explains about the pollinia of milkweed. He is my go-to guy for milkweed info. he has been studying them at Killdeer Plains for a couple of years. Unfortunately, that milkweed site is being crowed out with teasel.
    Hope you do get a chance to study milkweed a little closer! Cheryl