No. 16 // A Small but Mighty Milkweed

For some reason, the milkweed in my garden didn’t come back this spring. Lucky for me (and the monarchs), my Mom’s garden is teaming with milkweed. She started out with one a few years back and it’s proliferated, spreading wildly throughout her entire garden. I dug out a couple and replanted them in my garden, doting on them daily. The smaller one of the two took root and after a few weeks of looking somewhat perky, I decided to check the leaves for caterpillars. I’d never done this before, I suppose I was somewhat doubtful I’d find a caterpillar or what to do if I did find one. To my surprise, I found one little baby caterpillar, no bigger than a grain of rice. The next day I found two more and pretty soon I had six tiny caterpillars living in a little mesh den on our deck. We gently clipped the leaves where they sat and placed them in the enclosed habitat to protect them during their most vulnerable stage. I thought it would be a good way for my four-year-old to connect with nature, too. So, we kept their habitat clean, changing it dutifully every morning, giving them fresh milkweed and singing them the occasional lullaby. Within a couple of weeks, one decided to make the long climb up to the top and the next thing we knew, it was a tiny, perfect chrysalis. Magic.

Now, we all know how this goes. The very hungry caterpillar eats and grows and eats and grows and eventually cocoons itself into a chrysalis and, voila…out pops a butterfly! But watching this process actually unfold before our eyes has been nothing short of miraculous.

As I type this, six little caterpillars are quietly going through a seemingly impossible transformation, soon to be released into the late summer air with only possibility ahead of them. It’s been such an honor to protect and care for them and while they transform into the important pollinators they were born to be. They have also transformed us. The more time we spend in and with nature, the more we pay attention to the tiniest bits of life within the garden, the more connected we feel to the magic of nature and the better we are for it. We’ve become more mindful, more appreciative and more awe inspired by all of this life around us, each with its important part to play.

The mantra is ‘the power of one’; the way one native plant can start to transform an outdoor space for the better. This one small milkweed in my garden might just be the perfect living example of that.

Vanessa Friedman