i have a fair amount of common milkweed growing at my place. i'm a fan. it's one of my favorite wild vegetables (at a couple stages!), the flowers are beautiful, and they're the host plant for a few different insects i like to see around, like the red milkweed beetle (one of the longhorn beetles), and of course the monarch butterfly. there were couple years where you would hardly see monarchs flying here, but there have been more over the last few. Last week, give a take a few days, i saw and then forgot about a butterfly laying eggs on some of the milkweed plants that were beginning to fade in the patch next to the barn, where they rarely get direct sunlight and succumb early to one of the fungal diseases (it should be noted that i live in a fairly damp gully in an area of western north carolina that most years is a temperate rainforest. this summer we've gotten predictable afternoon thunderstorms many more days than we haven't). they also get heavy infestations of these fat orange aphids that i don't see on other milkweeds here.
a couple days ago i was walking past that patch and noticed that the plants were very nearly dead and there were a number of monarch caterpillars of various sizes on them. i got a jar and picked off all the caterpillars i could find and moved them to other, much happier milkweed plants in other places, mostly in the big milkweed patch at one end of my home orchard. today i thought that i'd like to document it a bit and went to the dying patch to take a picture. the plants are now standing blackstemmed and dead, but i found a few more caterpillars, wandering apparently confusedly up and down the stems. so i moved them too.
there is now fairly large area where nearly every milkweed plant contains a growing caterpillar. it's nice to go visit the monarch nursery.
New spring shoots, young leaves, flowerbuds, and young seedpods are all edible and tasty, lightly boiled - at which point you can do nearly anything with them. I made a weirdo version of three bean salad earlier this summer with kidney beans, sweet corn, and milkweed flowerbuds that was really good.
Older leaves and seedpods get fibrous and bitter. To me the softer younger material is like a slightly nutty asparagus.