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A Win-Win for Milkweed & Monarchs

12-3-17 milkweed IMG_0973Milkweed, a perennial plant that can adapt to adverse soil conditions, has recently been recognized as a viable source of fiber for fill for jackets and comforters.  Winter coats insulated with a compressed layer of milkweed fluff are have been shown to be as effective at retaining body heat as those filled with down or polyester, and a Canadian company is now manufacturing and selling them.

Although historically considered a “weed,” milkweed came into its own during World War II, when overseas supplies of the insulating fiber from the kapok tree were cut off and milkweed fluff was harvested for use in life jackets. The U.S. government launched a program that enlisted the help of children: if they could fill up a large onion bag of milkweed fluff, they would receive fifteen cents. This incentive proved very popular, and the U.S. was able to stuff over 1.2 million life vests with milkweed fluff. However, after the war, the rising use of synthetics lessened interest in all natural fibers, and milkweed went back to being considered a less than desirable weed.

Recently milkweed populations have been declining, in part due to herbicides and loss of habitat. However, with the growing interest in this plant as a source of commercial fiber it is now being planted as an agricultural crop, with some Vermont and Canadian farmers devoting acres of farmland to its growth. This, of course, is a boon to monarchs, as milkweed leaves are the sole source of food for monarch larvae. Not only is milkweed being cultivated, but the farmers growing it are making an effort not to harvest the plants until monarchs have migrated in the fall. A win-win situation for all concerned.

16 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    Wonderful news! Win-win for all is awesome. I learned just this year how to tell a male from a female Monarch….by the black dots on their lower wings….so that’s a male. Milkweed seeds are blowing thru my yard…so pretty….yes, there were some Monarchs here, but no Milkweed leaf nibbles…hopefully next year.

    December 4, 2017 at 8:16 am

  2. Barbara Deal

    Hi Mary, I am still delighted with my calendar! Is there any way to get a photo copy of today’s milkweed? I adore the photo. Barbara

    Sent from my iPad


    December 4, 2017 at 8:24 am

  3. Diane

    Great news!

    December 4, 2017 at 9:24 am

  4. Bill On The Hill...

    Outstanding story on the milkweed plant Mary & a beautiful photograph on it as well, well done! It tends to grow like a invasive all around my property, however I too leave it alone and I am very happy to report monarch sightings these past two years now here in the highlands of Corinth, Vermont…:)
    Bill Farr…

    December 4, 2017 at 9:35 am

  5. Kathryn

    This is not only great news for the monarchs – it’s great for people! The fragrance of milkweed flowers in incomparable!

    December 4, 2017 at 11:26 am

    • I agree, Kathryn. It’s just about my favorite scent.

      December 4, 2017 at 4:48 pm

  6. gerry fields

    Mary, please change my email address to: Thx! Gerry Fields >

    December 4, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    • Gerry, I’m afraid you have to contact WordPress and do that. I think the easiest thing is to unsubscribe, and then re-subscribe with your new email address!

      December 4, 2017 at 4:44 pm

  7. judilindsey


    Wow – I hadn’t heard that news. That is terrific!

    Thanks, Judi

    I love your new 2018 calendar – every photo is splendid. 🙂


    December 4, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    • I’m so glad you’re pleased with the calendar, Judi!

      December 4, 2017 at 8:17 pm

  8. Linda Campany

    Interesting. You’re doing public service.

    Sent from my iPad


    December 5, 2017 at 2:21 am

  9. Lynda Chandler

    Beautiful picture of milkweed pod! I enjoyed raising a monarch from catapillar to beautiful butterfly one year —- sent it off with newly dried wings.

    December 5, 2017 at 4:48 am

  10. David Fedor-Cunningham

    And nectar feeding insects will benefit from the all the flowers… more winning!

    December 5, 2017 at 8:08 am

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