06/25/2012 08:45 am ET Updated Aug 25, 2012

Milkweeds and Monarchs

Once, a few years ago, I saw these incredible flowers--kind of like giant mauve disco-ball chandeliers. When I inquired, I was told they were an incredibly invasive species of weed known as milkweed. I decided right then and there that I had to have some. But of course, you can't buy them at your local nursery...and so, I forgot. Until one day this pretty plant that I couldn't identify started growing. Often when that happens, I wait until it blooms to see what it turns into, especially when it grows in a place where I have space for surprises. Lo and behold, it turned very own milkweed patch.

I decided to let it stay, even though the milkweed got taller than the Japanese maple tree it grew around. Why? Because milkweed is the essential feeding and breeding habitat of the monarch butterfly. Milkweed is one of the only plants they will lay their eggs on. If you want to plant and register a milkweed patch, you can go to and have it registered and certified a "Monarch Waystation."

However, there are even more reasons to have milkweed in your garden. First of all, it smells DIVINE. Second of all, apparently it is also highly appealing to bees, since mine are covered with them. And third, if you ever need a disposable diaper substitute, it's what the Native Americans used (when the flowers go to seed, it makes the fluffy stuff that goes floating through the air like magic).

This morning as I was having my coffee outside, I saw a monarch flitting about. I couldn't tell for sure, but I think she might have been laying some eggs. I let her know that those eggs are safe with me!

For more from Maria Rodale, go to