Friday, June 20, 2014


When managing land for biological systems, there are many factors over which you have no control.  Some of these have an enormous influence over your success.  A prime example is the weather.  Yesterday evening, Blue Jay Barrens was visited by a thunderstorm exhibiting high wind, heavy rain and hail.  Physical evidence of the storm’s passing was abundant.  Downed tree limbs, broken plant stalks and flooding were found everywhere.  What I observed from the relative safety of the front porch, was the toppling of the milkweeds.  It all began with the simultaneous arrival of howling straight line winds and a heavy downpour of rain that sent an impressive wave of water spray breaking over the eves.

Wind and rain subsided slightly as a flurry of hailstones joined the mix.

Milkweeds near the water garden, heavy with rain and battered by hail, began to give way before the wind.

As the hail thinned, rain increased in intensity.  Several milkweeds have remained upright.  At this point, I was thinking the worst of the storm had passed.

I was wrong.  Heavy rain continued, hail resumed and the wind returned with a roar loud enough to send me running to the other side of the house to see if anything dangerous was headed in my direction.  When I returned to the porch 20 seconds later, the wind was driving straight down and pushing spray into the porch and onto the ceiling.

We went from hurricane like conditions to a light summer shower in just a few seconds.  I watched the back end of the storm thrash the woods on the hill across the road and then it was gone.  Amazingly, some milkweeds are still standing.

Violent summer weather may be uncontrollable, but that doesn’t mean it’s unpredictable or unexpected.  The milkweeds around the water garden, as well as many out in the fields, get flattened every year.  Younger specimens can almost bring themselves back upright after a storm, while those at this stage will gradually reorient the top of the plant so the flowers are held up for insect visitors.  Their susceptibility to storm damage does not diminish their importance as a valuable part of the natural ecosystem.

The milkweed stalks have not broken at the base and can be returned to an upright position if stakes are provided for support.  Since these are growing right outside the front door, I’ll do my best to return them to their proper orientation.  My wife claims that they remind her of Triffids lurking in wait near the porch and I don’t want them to appear as though they are reaching out to her.

The leaves will carry their hail damage for the rest of the season.  The milkweeds colonized the water garden flower beds on their own several years ago.  I left them alone to grow and increase their numbers because this patch seemed to be a preferred egg laying site of the Monarch butterfly.  Monarch caterpillars have always been present on these plants by this date in past years and evidence of their feeding should be present on the leaves right along with the hail damage.  This year I have yet to see my first Monarch.  Plenty of other insects utilize the milkweed, but it just doesn’t seem right without the Monarchs.


  1. Ed routinely mows some of our milkweed to extend the season of green leaves and flowers. I'm sure your milkweed will make the best of even that horrible situation.. I hope this is not the year that the Monarchs never arrive!

  2. Hi Becky. I've read that Monarchs have already arrived in Canada, so the northern migration may have passed me by. Maybe a few will come my way on the trip south.

  3. HI Steve.... Wow that was an impressive little storm you got there!! Glad it was you and not me!! The cat would be under the bed for days in fact I probably would be there with her for a bit !! : }
    There is a good crop of milk weed in the fields near me ,but the problem is when they hay the fields the Milkweed is cut too !!

    I am hoping for a good year for the Monarch after last year just about no show!!

    Keep your lead bottom shoes on!!

  4. Hi Grace. We had another storm last night, but it wasn’t quite as bad. I had to give up the lead bottom shoes because they were a potential environmental hazard. Now I use concrete galoshes.