I took the dog out to the field this evening as the sun was setting. Everything has grown quickly this month and in certain areas the grasses are up to my shoulders. The vernal pools are completely dry and field vegetation is springing up in the cracked earth.
I noticed the milkweed coming into bloom and saw several leaves that had been eaten. Sure enough, there were Monarch butterfly caterpillars on several plants, each about 4 cm long. I was very tempted to take them home, but I really don't have time this week to be a Monarch nanny. The city has mowed a number of paths in the field and they are working on the site to make a recreation area. Last year, an entire field of milkweed on a nearby boulevard was mowed in August, just when another group of caterpillars was feeding on the plants.
Mom was telling me of another important use of this "noxious weed" during the war years. She recently wrote,"We gathered milkweed pods that were ripe each fall and the seed & fluff were used for life jackets for the sailors." She was paid by the pound for the pods.
I found this written in another source,
"During World War II a call went out from the government for milkweed pods. Boy and girl scouts, civic groups, farmers and collectors all over North America scoured the countryside for milkweeds, collected and dried the pods, and shipped them to central collecting stations... Milkweed floss is 5 or 6 times as buoyant as cork, and it was soon discovered that a life jacket containing a few pounds of this floss could hold up a 150-pound man in the sea. It is warmer than wool and 6 times lighter. Flying suits lined with milkweed floss are warm and light-weight, and, if an aviator falls into the ocean, the suit will act as a life preserver."
Children were reminded that by collecting the milkweed pods they might be saving the life of their father, older brother, uncle, or friend.
This Common Milkweed is really an extraordinary lifesaver. If I hear the city mowers in the field, I will have to run out and rescue some plants and those beautiful caterpillars.