Readers’ wildlife photos

June 17, 2021 • 8:00 am

Once again I emit my call for readers’ wildlife (or street) photos, as I’m getting a bit nervous when the tank runs low.

Today we have lovely plant photos (milkweed) from reader Christopher McLaughlin. His IDs and notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

I am answering your call for some more wildlife photos. The first three are some recent plant photos from a hike around Gay Feather Prairie Conservation Area in Vernon county MO.  My photos are, I hope, adequate as I have only an iPhone 11 and not a lick of artistry when it comes to photography.

Asclepias viridis, the Green Milkweed, also called Green Antelope Horns for some reason. Quite common along the roadsides and highways, so often just overlooked and mowed down.  I think they are just spectacular.

A closer view:

 Close-up view of an individual flower showing the corona and all the sexy parts.

For comparison, here are three photos of another species, Asclepias syriaca, the Common Milkweed, growing in my yard. Common it may be but it is still spectacular and the fragrance…!

This shows the top view of two flower as showing the corona in a textbook example for Asclepias flower morphology (I’m literally looking at a drawing of this in a wildflower book while typing and trying to make sense of it). Notice the tiny fly sitting on what is called the “horn”. We can also see the reflexed petals underneath the lower flower

Again, a close-up, but side view, showing the petals (pointing up this time, since I was looking down on the flower) as well as unopened flowers around the flower. Can you see the little line on the green bit in the middle? That’s the stigmatic slit, leading to the stigmatic chamber. Sometimes you can find insects trapped here by their legs, or the leg itself, ripped off from the insect who wasn’t strong enough to pull itself out.

Asclepias are fascinating flowers. I’m sure most readers know about monarchs laying their eggs on them and the milky latex sap that contains alkaloids and cardiac glycosides used by the butterflies and other insects as a chemical defense. But there are so many insects which are drawn to this plant that do not take up the toxins. It is quite the popular feeding site at the moment!

There is so much more I need to learn about the Asclepiadaceae and I’m not exactly the brightest bulb here, a rank amateur at best. I could spend two lifetimes studying them and not ever get tired of them but I just wish more people would appreciate them at any level and stop mowing them down. Luckily, there are several species that are easy to grow, easy to find at decent nurseries (choose your local natives, please!) and anyone with a patch of dull, boring, biologically sterile lawn can make a world of difference with a couple of plants, for yourself and your insect neighbors.

19 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Hooray for “only” cell phone camera recording of observations!

    Can you imagine what our ancestors would have said?

    1. No, I can’t imagine what even my recent ancestors would have said for they would have been too busy trying to develop the film in the home darkroom for hours at a time! (My great uncle was a home photography aficionado)

      What I mean by “only cell phone camera” is compared to many of the insect and bird photos features here, my attempts are amateurish at best. I am often left speechless at the quality of photography shared by other readers.

  2. Very nice.
    I recall from my Botany class days that the anatomy of milkweed flowers is extremely weird. But they are always worth inspecting for Insect Drama.
    As a group, milkweeds have managed to evolve into a range of forms, including a vine, and a desert species that shows convergent evolution on cacti.

    1. I can’t believe I wrote that without ever mention the gynostegium! It’s the main bit of “the sexy parts”, the round greenish thing in the middle of the flower and so odd. The day after I sent those photos I watched honey bees from a local hive repeatedly get stuck legs in the flowers, then pulling them out with the pollenium attached. Just so odd and so cool!

  3. These are beautiful photos and descriptions. Thanks for pointing out the stigmatic slit. I wouldn’t have known to look for that. The pale colors are so lovely.
    I bought a pack of seeds to plant a couple of months ago for the purpose of attracting butterflies but still haven’t planted them. I will now!

  4. 2 years ago a Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.,) appeared at the side of our house (Toronto area) and we said that’s great, will attract the Monarch butterfly.

    Last year there were about a dozen of them and they were starting to take over the area.

    This year we have counted about 50 or so and have had to take drastic measures as they appear to be headed for the back yard and neighbouring properties.

    The general description for this species is “Perennial, reproducing by seed and by horizontally spreading underground roots which produce new leafy stems.” and they do indeed spread underground.

    1. You may be relieved to know that there are likely many more Common (or Kansas) Milkweed plants in Ontario now than there were 200 ya.

  5. I planted my first milkweed a few months ago after reading biologist Sara Dykman’s wonderful book Bicycling with Butterflies about her 10,000 mile bicycle journey following the Monarch migration. She makes the same plea as Christopher about not mowing milkweed certain times of the year.

    Beautiful photos – I hope my milkweed is as inviting the next time Monarchs come my way.

  6. We let the milkweed grow in our gardens. We want to encourage the Monarch butterflies. I have also stopped up the spaces around our garage foundation where the Great Black Wasps (Sphex pensylvanicus) used to nest: They were killing the Monarch caterpillars. 🙁

  7. Very nice…no milkweed where I live, but when I was a kid, living in Reno, Nevada, it grew wild in open fields. It was easy to find Monarch caterpillars and we’d capture them, feed them in jars and watch them pupate and become butterflies. It was a highlight of summer. And all the other insects the plant attracts was also a thrill.

    1. I’ve never been out west but a quick search on the iNat app around Reno shows the Humbolt Mountain milkweed, A. cryptoceras, the Narrowleaf milkweed, A. Fascicularis, the Showy milkweed A. speciosa (we have it here in Mo as well) and the Heartleaf milkweed, A. cordifolia. All beautiful variations on a theme. I have monarch caterpillars on my plants now, on the common milkweed and the butterfly weed aka A. tuberosa, which I didn’t share photos of but I see few adult butterflies. They like my non-native zinnias better. I do see lots of Great Spangled Fritillaries feeding on the milkweed flowers. Tons of them this year, though I’m not sure what their caterpillars’ food plant preference is.

      And as an aside, the podcast and yootubes channel Crime Pays but Botany Doesn’t is a great, albeit coarse, resource for plant lovers, especially for the misanthropic sort, like me.

  8. Sorry to be a plant nerd here, but the family is now referred to as the Apocynaceae, and the Asclepiadoideae is a subfamily within it.

  9. The milkweed in my garden is 𝘈𝘴𝘤𝘭𝘦𝘱𝘪𝘢𝘴 𝘵𝘶𝘣𝘦𝘳𝘰𝘴𝘢, butterfly weed, a gorgeous deep orange; no caterpillars are visible on them yet.

  10. Wow – spectacular and great photography. I don’t know that plant but they look just a bit like passionfruit flowers. We don’t get much passionfruit in the USA (which is a shame) but it is very beautiful and the fruit is wonderful.

  11. The only milkweeds I have consciously seen (in Central Europe) and admired were potted/in gardens, I didn’t know about the connection with monarch butterflies and the leg-trapping properties. Appreciate all the information.

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