As I was leaving Wittendale’s the other day holding a tall milkweed plant on the way to check out, a monarch butterfly flitted about me, alighting and re-alighting on the plant. It seemed to be a good sign, especially given the fact that monarchs are said to be close to extinction.
Milkweeds — the only plant monarch caterpillars can eat — have an alluring aroma, though, apparently, deer stay away from them because they are toxic to vertebrate herbivores. In fact, monarch butterflies, I later learned, sequester some of that toxic matter as a defense against their predators.
But, when it comes to monarch predation, pesticides and construction that have deprived them of habitat in the U.S. and freakish climate-change weather, such as droughts here and storms in central Mexico, where monarchs overwinter — many generations having passed the baton during their extraordinary migration — have evidently been the chief culprits.
In buying a milkweed plant, the third such I’ve bought recently, I wasn’t thinking of joining a national preservation movement, but knowing that doing something, however minimal, in the name of beauty is inspiriting, so it’s milkweed for me. Maybe someday we’ll be a monarch way station.
It was Asclepias incarnata that I grabbed, showy swamp milkweed — the family’s name, Asclepiadaceae, deriving from Asclepios, the Greek god of medicine and healing, an appropriate connection, healing to some extent being a metamorphosis, which the monarch butterfly exemplifies.
O’en too has metamorphosed of late, having taken up with Pearl, a fetching terrier, who lives across the street. He’s been measurably happier since they’ve been exchanging afternoon visits.
He’s joyous when he sees her, and exhausted when she leaves.
It’s been beautiful to see, like a monarch butterfly.