Dr. Orrin Shane’s lifelong interest in milkweed began when he was a boy in the 1940s. He and his childhood friends picked bushels of the plants for the war effort. The fluffy insides of pods were used to fill life preservers for soldiers overseas. “That was my introduction to milkweed,” Shane said. “It is a plant of many faces.” Today, as a volunteer of the Signs of the Seasons phenology program, Shane regularly observes milkweed for signs of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars. He found his current stand accidentally after a futile search of his Portland neighborhood. Read more.
Image Description: Orrin Shane
Maine’s hearty pod-bearing milkweed is an essential part of seasonal change. The stalky perennial provides annual food and shelter to butterflies in all stages of metamorphosis. The insects depend on the safe haven provided by Maine’s three types of milkweed plants: the sun-loving butterfly and common types and the purple-flowered swamp variety. Maine gardeners also plant non-native species as ornamentals or to attract butterflies. Found primarily in North America, the plant provides butterflies and caterpillars shelter, food and defense against predators. Monarchs, for example, lay their eggs almost exclusively on milkweed. After hatching, monarch larvae feed on the leaves, ingesting the plant’s toxins. This brilliant trick of nature makes both caterpillars and butterflies unpalatable to predators such as birds and small rodents. Read more
Image Description: Rogan milkweed plate