Thursday, June 23, 2011

Milkweed Season

I find wildflowers in the woods and in the new wild part of the local park while walking my dog. When I observe a wildflower, I make basic notes on site and take reference photos, while holding my Airedale, Ozzie, in check and trying to avoid the ticks and mosquitos.  I return to my computer to upload photos and refer to my collection of books and the internet to identify the flowers.  This is what my initial notes look like:
At this stage, I usually find I have missed observing some key point of information, so I re-check the plant on my next trip, using a different color of ink each trip.  Sometimes I end up with 4 or 5 different colors!  This one was fairly simple because I had identified it before.  Finally, I do a pen and ink wash like this:

This, like many milkweeds, has sticky white "Elmer's Glue" type sap and is poisonous throughout.  Most animals have the good sense not to eat it, though I have found instances on the internet of cattle or sheep eating it and becoming very sick or even dying.  
Monarch butterflies get the benefit of all that poison:  This is a host plant for monarchs and the poison has been detected in the bodies of both the butterfly and the larvae, which they consume when they eat the plant parts.  The poison doesn't affect the butterfly, but it doesn't agree with  butterfly predators, who soon learn to "Leave the Monarchs alone!  they'll make you sick!"