Showy Milkweed Plants – Friend to Butterflies and Bees!

Showy milkweed with little bee flying away.

Showy milkweed plants are a bit of an unlikely subject one would seek out to photograph. The plant itself with its broad, velvety, green leaves is not necessarily a standout. However, as I learned, Milkweeds are considered classic American wildflowers.

Before they undergo their unique transformation to alien looking pods, their nubby pink buds given way to lovely, little rosy pink flowers. It is these spherical bud clusters which give way to flowers that are fun to watch evolve and photograph.

Showy Milkweed Flowers and Buds

a milkweed flower just opening.
Showy milkweed cluster of buds with flower opening.

Now that I know which local areas have prolific patches of these broad-leafed, perennial plants, I know right where to go – and when! As always with blooming flowers, timing can be of the essence.

Thankfully the plant’s bloom cycle coincides with the Prickly Pear cactus plants that were newly discovered this year. So this works out as a 2 for 1 in terms of photo ops.

These plants are friends of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. This keeps the morning photo moments diverse and fun for sure!!

For some techy background info: “Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) is closely related to the Common milkweed, A. syriaca.” Their spherical, rosy bud clusters grow at the top of the stem which give way to the pink flowers. Typically found in the western half of North America, Native Americans used Showy milkweed to make ropes, nets and other items.

The photos in the gallery below give you an idea of the nubby, rosy buds which show up around early June. Little by little they will burst open with their little pink flowers.

Hosts to Monarchs & Bees Share the Milkweed Bounty

For those they may not know, milkweed is an important plant species to Monarch butterflies. They are the larval host and primary food source for Monarch caterpillars. They feed exclusively on the broad, green leaves. Thus milkweed is critical for the survival of Monarchs. Without it, they cannot complete their life cycle. Given Monarchs decline, planting milkweed has become more and more encouraged in an effort to boost Monarch’s populations.

bee gathering pollen on little milkweed flowers
A honey bee gathering pollen on pink milkweed flowers.
bee gathering pollen on pink milkweed flowers
Busy bee on rosy pink, little milkweed flowers.

While Monarch caterpillars may feat on the leaves, bees go for the flowers. No sooner do these little buds open than bees descend up the blooms. Bees enjoy the flowers for pollen gathering and are busy and focused going from flower to little flower. They definitely take advantage of these little flowers as an open invitation. I absolutely love watching AND photographing them.

Since milkweeds are considered classic American wildflowers, they can make for a lovely addition to your garden and make it more bee AND butterfly friendly too!

Flower Clusters to Green Pods then Silky, Wispy Seeds

I’ve written multiple posts about various flower transformations – but this one kind of boggles the mind. It goes without saying the evolution of milkweed flower clusters is truly bizarre. It’s hard to believe these alien-looking, green horn-shaped pods were once flowers clusters!

I’ve noted before, these strange looking things remind me of the pods from the classic movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers!

Horn-shaped, green showy milkweed seed pods on plant.
Horn-shaped Showy milkweed seed pods.
Wispy, white, showy milkweed silk and seeds after pod opens.
Wispy, Showy milkweed silk & seeds after pod opens.

In the photos above you can see how these green pods eventually burst open with dozens of fluffy white, silky seeds that float on the wind vs. taking over a human host 🙂

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