Text: Milkweeds & Monarchs

In 2015–16, Elizabeth G Fagan wrote the monthly column “Green Talk” for the Ozaukee County News Graphic on behalf of Mequon Nature Preserve. Fagan’s experience as a professional writer spans more than 30 years. She frequently took the photos accompanying her “Green Talk” columns.

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Milkweed Pods, 8x8, by Elizabeth G Fagan, digital art on lakemichigansleftcoast.com, from Lake Michigan's Left Coast
Milkweed Pods

Landscaping with Wisconsin native species brings the frugal, time-crunched gardener an array of benefits. With knowledge and a keen eye, a gardener might find low-cost (or no-cost) starter plants. Because native plants evolved in our recalcitrant climate, they thrive if planted in preferred conditions. Another benefit is the wildlife that certain species can bring to your yard. The kingdom of the Monarch caterpillar and butterfly, for example, is the lowly milkweed.

Wisconsin boasts several native species of milkweed, including the Prairie Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii), the Dwarf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia), the Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), and the profligate Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The milkweed’s chubby stems, shiny leaves, discs of small flowers—and especially its warty seed pods and parachute-like seeds—are familiar sights in sunny, uncultivated areas across our state. Personal contact with a milkweed reveals the fragrance of its flowers and the sticky milk that oozes from its fractures. That milk is toxic, and it bestows not only the milkweed’s name but also the survival mechanism of the Monarch.

September 2015 Green Talk by Elizabeth Fagan
September 2015 Green Talk by Elizabeth Fagan

Monarchs evolved with immunity to the milkweed’s poison. As a butterfly, the Monarch lays its eggs on milkweed plants. Growing caterpillars eats leaves containing the toxic milk, making them poisonous to most predators. The resulting butterfly is also poisonous. Throughout its lifecycle, the Monarch needs the milkweed like a summer rose needs the sun and rain.

To invite Common Milkweed to your landscape, pick a sunny, semi-dry spot where it can spread freely. Otherwise, by way of underground shoots, milkweed can quickly elbow aside other ornamentals. Some consider it invasive. Milkweed is easily cultivated by seed or rhizome. Many nurseries have seeds and plants; successful plants usually bloom in the second year.

Paddling Upstream, 11x14, by Elizabeth G Fagan, lakemichigansleftcoast.com, Lake Michigans Left Coast
Paddling Upstream, 11×14, by Elizabeth G Fagan, lakemichigansleftcoast.com, Lake Michigan’s Left Coast

Elizabeth G Fagan is an artist, photographer, and writer. A former Chicagoan, Fagan resides in southeastern Wisconsin. She calls her place in the world Lake Michigan’s Left Coast.

Fagan attended The Hammonasset School, a private arts high school in Connecticut, where she began writing and taking photographs. She earned a BA in English at Grinnell College (Grinnell, Iowa) and the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC). She has an MA in Linguistics with a specialization in teaching English as a second language (ESL) from UIC. Fagan later gained an associate degree in Web Development from Chicago’s DePaul University. As an editor at Rand McNally, Fagan edited and authored an award-winning series of atlases.

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Art, content, photography, lakemichigansleftcoast.com, Lake Michigan’s Left Coast © 2015–2019 Elizabeth G Fagan
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