American author and poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, described a weed as “but an unloved flower.” I have always loved weeds and wildflowers. Sure I can appreciate the hard work that goes into a beautiful, man-made garden, but I absolutely love wild fields and meadows where nature’s work is on display.
My husband and I own 2.5 acres and almost two of it is natural meadow (with some trees around the edges). This year, the meadow has filled with these tall, leggy, fuzzy purple flowers. I don’t remember nearly this much of it last year. When you go out and stand at the edge of the field, if you let your eyes adjust for a few minutes, you can begin to see that the flowers are absolutely filled with pollinators; and not just honey bees, but pollinators of all sorts. We have not seen many bumblebees in general this year, but they are certainly busy in the back field. This got me interested in just what this weed is. Interestingly, it’s an invasive plant and one with a bit of controversy.
I’d like to introduce you to Knapweed:
Apparently Knapweed is native to Southeastern Europe. It’s incredibly invasive (which I can attest to, since it has literally covered our back field). It is so invasive that it can smother native plants. Here’s where it gets dicey. It is a incredible pollen and nectar source for honey bees, so there is some contention as to the best course of action for its removal. Michigan State University recommends replacing it with pollen and nectar-rich native species upon its removal, however, many beekeepers want to just leave it alone. Five different types of insects (flies and weevils) have been released to help control the spread. Who knew? Here I just figured it was a pretty purple flower. The flower doesn’t look very substantial, but as I said, it seems to attract a vast array of pollinators (bees and butterflies alike), which is pretty interesting.
This brings us to Milkweed:
Two years ago my family was at a fourth of July festival that included a butterfly house for the kids to walk through. The local nature center was selling Monarch caterpillars as a fundraiser and to raise awareness of the declining Monarch population. We bought two (more for myself, than for the little one). We were given two pages of information and directions for how to raise this little thing. This was when I first learned about the importance of Milkweed. For caterpillars, Milkweed leaves provide food and nutrition (this is what we fed ours, in fact). Then, just as the caterpillar emerges as a butterfly, the Milkweed comes into bloom and the butterfly feeds on the nectar in the flowers. Seriously. Isn’t nature amazing? Once I learned to recognize Milkweed I noticed it popping up in my garden. I did pull it out, but only if it was impeding on one of my vegetable plants.
This year, a large section of it sprung up in one patch in an area that didn’t bother us to leave alone. It turned into about a six by eight foot section. And I’ll tell you, I’ve never seen so many Monarchs in our yard in all of the five years we’ve lived here. Almost every time I look out the back window, one is flitting by. It could be a good year for Monarchs, it could be the Knapweed, but I tell myself the Milkweed can’t hurt! We have to pass the patch of it to collect eggs from the chicken coop each day and I also didn’t know that Milkweed was so fragrant!
So I was out wandering around a week ago and stopped to snap a picture of the Milkweed. As I leaned in to get a picture, I heard a buzzing. Now if you keep bees, it’s a buzzing you’d recognize. Not the buzzing of a singular bee, flying around your head, but the buzzing of many bees. As I let my eyes focus I realized the flowers were absolutely covered with honey bees. I was so excited that the plants served a dual purpose! Also, when honey bees work Milkweed, they shake each flower, so that was pretty cool to watch. I couldn’t get many great pictures because of this shaking (well, and because I don’t have a fancy camera), but I did get this one. Finding the bee is kind of like a Where’s Waldo? excercise:
Anyway, I know this is only two weeds in the immensely diverse world of weeds, but they are two that have played a pretty significant role in the make-up of our yard. Currently, the plants are forming seedpods. These will eventually dry out and burst, thus propagating more Milkweed for next year. We are thinking of saving some so that we can start another patch closer to the hives.]
I suggest you find yourself a spare moment around 7:00 or 8:00 at night and a spare field where you can wander quietly and notice the bugs as well as the weeds. It’s really quite relaxing.