Who decides these green things are plants to be cultivated and those are weeds to be eradicated? Weed is part of the name of milkweeds, but they’re lifesavers.


Milkweeds grow up to six feet tall with broad, egg-shaped leaves, fragrant pink flowers, green pods and milky, white sap. The perennials are poisonous to most animals.


During World War II, the federal government asked my dad and other farmers like him to delay mowing the interlopers growing in their fields until us kids fought our way through the head-high patches and gathered the pods in September. A pound-and-a-half of the floss from the pods could be sewed inside a life preserver, which would keep a 150-pound sailor afloat for ten hours.


Today people are encouraged to plant milkweeds to prevent the extinction of monarch butterflies with their familiar four-inch, black, orange and white patterned wing-spans floating in slow, sailing flights. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service statistics, nearly a billion monarchs have vanished since 1990. Herbicides used by farmers and homeowners to eliminate milkweeds are blamed. Milkweeds are the food source, home and nursery for the king of butterflies.

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