Crow’s Nest: Milkweed season

June 18, 2024

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager.

Ball-shaped clusters of pink flowers of milkweed.

Photo: Daniel Barringer.

The perfection of the flower clusters of milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) belies its name that has the word “weed” in it. This beauty is found in many places at Crow’s Nest Preserve, but the easiest to find is in the meadow by the parking lot. The blooming of milkweed kicks off the second peak of wildflower bloom here; after the ephemeral spring wildflowers are finished, we have another wave of summer blooms in our meadows.

Flower of swamp rose with pink petals and yellow stamens.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

We also have a few populations of swamp rose, Rosa palustris. You can immediately tell from is behavior that it isn’t the invasive multiflora rose (which has smaller white flowers). I appreciate its beauty even more because it isn’t multiflora rose.

At the canopy level there is still more flowering: the northern catalpa tree (Catalpa species) is in peak bloom. I read online that this is not a terribly long-lived tree. Ours is gnarly, hollow, and ancient. This week the trash truck took off a major branch, and I counted the rings: the branch alone appears to be 70 years old!

Catalpa tree in flower next to a stone barn.

Photo: Daniel Barringer.

Here’s a closeup of the gorgeous flowers:

Closeup of the flowers of a catalpa tree: frilly white tubes with purple spots leading down the throat.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

It is also host for caterpillars including the catalpa sphinx moth (Cetatomia catalpae). As it happens, we’re raising some in a netting container on our kitchen table (we have ourselves raised an insect enthusiast, otherwise we wouldn’t be!). People use these as fishing bait, and of course birds rely on caterpillars to feed their rapidly growing young.

Green and black caterpillars of the catalpa sphinx moth, on a leaf

Photo: Daniel Barringer