Monday, June 22, 2015


Milkweed plants are an essential part of the life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus plexipuss).  Many other insects and hummingbirds find the plentiful nectar of the blossoms irresistible and thus aid in the cross pollination of milkweed benefitting the monarch greatly. Honey bees and bumble bees are principle pollinators of milkweed.  The pollination process is unique in that the pollen is contained in two tiny waxy sacks connected by a filament called a pollinium. There are five of these pollinia in each individual milkweed flower and are part of the flower head called an umbel. In order for cross pollination to occur an insect must step into the flower so the pollinium can attach itself to the leg of the insect.  The pollinium is then deposited by the insect in another flower by reversing the process.  Unfortunately small to medium insects can become trapped by the pollinia because they are not strong enough to pull it from the flower.

This bee has become trapped when its leg is caught in the pollinia and cannot pull itself free.  The good news is that after several minutes of twisting and squirming the bee was able to extract its leg and fly off.

Fox Island Co. Park butterfly garden, 6-22-2015 photo J. Ormiston