When it comes to differentiating between a weed and a wildflower, the answer lies in one’s perspective.
Many farmers find that milkweed gets in the way. I wouldn’t exactly say that my husband and I qualify as farmers. Though we do live on a small farm and keep farm animals, we earn our living from non-farm jobs. But we certainly don’t look down at this plant as a lowly weed.
In fact, one of the most marvelous wildflowers we have growing on our farm is showy milkweed.
When I first moved here neither Chad nor I were sure what species it was but a bit of searching and I was able to find its identity – showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa.
Over the past few years that I have lived here in Northeastern Utah, I have enjoyed greeting these plants as they return year after year.
Their blooms are visited not just by butterflies, but also our local bee population.
For someone whose favorite past time is sitting in the garden taking photos of pollinators, these wildflowers make the task easy. The bees just can’t seem to get enough.
And I can’t blame them. The smell of these flowers is utterly intoxicating. I could sit next to them for hours – even if there weren’t interesting pollinators crawling all over them.
Milkweeds, including this species, have large inflorescences, usually spherical, that are made up of many different flowers.
When you sit down to look at one, you see that each individual flower is star shaped, with a fascinating structure.
Interestingly, our donkeys (and our neighboring horses and cattle) know not to eat these plants, which contain toxic compounds – the same compounds that monarch butterflies use as a defense to prevent themselves being eaten by birds.
I can look out across our pastures and our neighboring pastures in the summer, and see the tall stems of milkweed standing up over the grazed fields, untouched by donkeys, horses, or cows.
Showy milkweed may be a weed in many rural dweller’s books, but this native plant is a cherished wildflower for us.