Wednesday, October 1, 2014

M & Ms - (Monarchs and Milkweeds)

Tom McCavour, Simcoe County
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not writing about those colourful button shaped candies that many of us love, I’m writing about Monarchs and Milkweed. I want to explain how one of the most beautiful butterflies that have ever been created is threatened by the noxious weed label applied to common milkweed by various states and provinces in the United States and Canada.

Elimination of milkweed is not the only reason for the demise of the monarch. Illegal clear cutting of the old growth forests of the Sierra Nevada in central Mexico has robbed the monarch of its winter habitat. The monarchs also encounter deforestation, urbanization, herbicides, bad weather and genetically modified crops during their long 4800 kilometre migration from Canada to Mexico.

There is hope for the monarch’s survival. Early this year the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs removed common milkweed from its noxious plant list in the hope that the resurgence can bring back the plant and help the monarchs.

Why is milkweed classified as a noxious weed? Milkweed is named for its milky juice which contains latex and other components which are toxic. Animals such as sheep and cows will sicken or die if the plant is ingested in large quantities. Instances of animal deaths have been rare. The noxious weed label is obviously unnecessary.

Unrelated to monarch butterflies, milkweed has a multitude of uses. During World War 2 the cottony seed was collected as a substitute for kapok insulation and was unsuccessfully attempted as a substitute for natural rubber. For people with allergies it is used as a substitute for feathers in pillows. It can also be used as a fibre and is beneficial in repelling pests in nearby plants.

Monarch is a rather strange name for a butterfly but in fact it is very appropriate. The monarch was named after an English king by British immigrants who came to North America. William of Orange defeated James II in the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland. William’s soldiers dressed in orange and carried orange banners and flags trimmed with black. They became known as Orangemen and their banners became a Protestant symbol.

The monarch’s wings take first place in nature’s sketchbook. The outer side of the leaf like symmetrical wings is a flaming bright orange embroidered with white flecked black trim, advertising to potential predators that the butterfly is toxic. A network of black veins radiate out from the body like floral petals. On the underside the bright orange colour turns to a paler yellow orange.

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