Category Archives: Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

BEST MILKWEED TO PLANT FOR MASSACHUSETTS GARDENS, MEADOWS, FIELDS, AND DUNE RESTORATION

Friends often ask, and I cover this topic extensively in my Monarch programs, “What is the best milkweed to plant in our region?” Without a doubt, the two most important and productive are Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).

Marsh Milkweed also goes by the name Swamp Milkweed, but Marsh sounds so much more appealing, don’t you think? Milkweeds already have the suffix weed attached to their names. To some folks any wildflower that includes the word weed seems invasive, and we don’t want to frighten people from planting our sweet native wildflowers by inferring they are a swamp dweller, too.

Gallery of Marsh Milkweed

When a weed is not a weed  – It’s unfortunate that so many of our native beauties end in “weed.” Ironweed, Joe-pye Weed, Sneezeweed, Thimbleweed, Butterfly Weed, and Milkweed are just some examples. Why were these native wildflowers at one time long ago named “weed.” Because the earliest colonists brought from their home countries flowering plants that were beloved and familiar to them, delphiniums and larkspurs, for example. In their new American home gardens, these treasured European plants would have been easily overtaken by our more vigorous American wildflowers.

To return to the topic of milkweed, Common Milkweed spreads by both underground and by seed. It’s ideal for dunes, meadows, and fields. Marsh Milkweed is more clump forming and stays relatively close to where you plant it. You can control how much it spreads by deadheading, or not, before the seed heads turn to fluff and sail away. I grow both Marsh Milkweed and Common Milkweed side-by-side. In our garden, the female Monarch does not discern the difference between the two species of milkweeds, she will flit from one to the other, and back again, depositing her eggs all along the way.

Gallery of Common Milkweed

By the way, both A. syriaca and A. incarnata are also the easiest milkweeds to grow in Massachusetts.

A ten-year nation-wide study was recently published. Across the country, Marsh and Common proved to be the most productive, in other words, more eggs were laid on these two species than on any other species of milkweed.

The map provided below is somewhat helpful; I write somewhat with a word of advice. If you click on Massachusetts, for example, not only are Common and Marsh Milkweeds listed but also Purple Milkweed (A. pupurascens), Fourleaf Milkweed (A. quadrifolia), Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa), Poke Milkweed (A. exaltata), Whorled Milkweed (A. verticillata), and Clasping Milkweed (A. amplexicaulis). We grow a nice patch of Whorled Milkweed and I have never, ever seen a Monarch once visit the foliage or flowers. Purple Milkweed can be very challenging to get started, and Butterfly Weed is not as hardy in our region as are Common and Marsh.

Milkweeds are the only food plant for Monarch caterpillars and also provide nectar to a host of pollinators including many, many species of butterflies, bees, beetles, and even hummingbirds. Plant for the pollinators and they will come!

This is an image from my recent adventure to Cerro Pelon. I am dying to write about the trip, but have had a very full schedule finishing up my film, organizing landscape jobs for the season, and hoping to get the PiPls settled in. The Monarchs in the photo are mud-puddling. Tens of thousands leave the butterfly trees during the heat of the day, sucking up water and much needed nutrients from the mud at nearby mountain streams

HOME FROM BEAUTIFUL MEXICO AND FILMING THE MAGNIFICENT MONARCHS!

My husband Tom and I returned from filming Monarchs in Mexico very late Monday night. The first day back was pasta making for Saint Joseph Day at the Groppos and spending time with our son Alex and granddaughter Charlotte. Yesterday and today I’ve been pouring through the footage to add to the film. I’ll write some posts about beautiful Mexico, the fantastic JM Butterfly B and B, and the magnificent Monarchs as soon as I have time to sort through the photos. It was an adventure of a lifetime!

I was most worried about torturing Tom and wasn’t entirely sure we would have uninterrupted internet access so he could work remotely, but he had the best time meeting new people, riding horses up the mountain, climbing Cerro Pelon, and practicing his Spanish!

Monarch flakes fill the sky 

MONARCH BUTTERFLY FILM UPDATE AND JESSE COOK’S “BEYOND BORDERS” PREMIERES TONIGHT!

I am beyond excited to share that we have been able to license the music that I dreamed about for my Monarch Butterfly documentary. This may not sound like a huge deal, but we have been working towards this for several years. The four songs were composed and arranged by world renowned guitarist Jesse Cook and they are: “You,” “Fields of Blue,” Afternoon at Saties,” and “El Cri.” My husband, Tom, introduced me to Jesse’s music, and from the moment I heard it, I knew that we would find music to score Beauty on the Wing from his repertoire of beautiful songs 

Jesse Cook: Beyond Borders is his newest concert special and begins airing on WGBH tonight at 8:30pm!

Beyond Borders is Cook’s most recent album and while touring the record over a 31 day period, from Canadian coast to Canadian coast, they filmed the performances in 4k every night. “The result is an immersive musical journey that treats the audience to a sense of being on stage with the band from the opening note to its energetic finale.”

From PBS:

JESSE COOK: BEYOND BORDERS

Premieres March 2, 2019 on PBS

A Musical Journey with the Genre Bending Guitarist

JESSE COOK: BEYOND BORDERSthe latest concert special by the acoustic guitar virtuoso, was filmed over the 31 days of his coast-to-coast tour of Canada. Instead of filming just one show in one night, the cameras rolled every night, allowing Jesse to place the best version of each song into this unique concert experience. The result is an immersive musical journey that treats the audience to a sense of being on stage with the band from the opening note to its energetic finale — a Jesse Cook “Rhumba Party.” JESSE COOK: BEYOND BORDERS is part of special programming premiering on PBS stations in March 2019.

Canadian guitarist, composer and producer Jesse Cook blends rumba and flamenco with elements of jazz and world music. He is a three-time winner of Canada’s Smooth Jazz Award for Guitarist of the Year, as well as a Juno Award-winner (Canada’s version of The Grammy) in the Best Instrumental Album category for Free Fall. In 2009, he was Acoustic Guitar’s Player’s Choice Silver Winner in the Flamenco category.

JESSE COOK: BEYOND BORDERS features these performances:

    • “Beyond Borders”
    • “Tempest”
    • “Come What May”
    • “Hembra”
    • “Jumpstart”
    • “Chendy’s Caja” solo
    • “Dance of Spring”
    • “Bombay Slam”
    • “Ho Hey”
    • “Double Dutch”
    • Medley (“Bombay Diner,” “Closer to Madness,” “That’s Right,” “Baghdad”)
    • “Beneath Your Skin”

Jesse Cook, a master guitarist known for his intoxicating fusion of world music, has travelled the globe looking for sounds that resonate with him. “I like finding common ground for different music traditions, a space where music from around the world can come together,” Cook explains. “A place where modern sounds can mix with ancient timbres.”

HIGHER NUMBERS GIVE HOPE FOR MONARCHS

By Kim Smith

January 31, 2019

The World Wildlife Fund Mexico and Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (MBBR) announced on January 30th that this year the Monarch Butterfly population has increased significantly.

Each year the orange and black winged beauties return to the oyamel fir and pine tree forests, which are located in the heart of Mexico’s trans volcanic mountain belt. In December and January, Lepidoptera population specialists and citizen scientists measure the area the Monarch colonies cover at their over wintering sites. This year (2018-2019) the butterflies are blanketing 6.05 hectares (approximately 15 acres), up from an all-time low of only 0.67 hectares (1.65 acres) during the winter of 2013-2014.

Not since 2006-2007 has this great an area been covered by the butterflies, although the numbers are still quite low when compared to the numbers recorded in the late 1970s when the butterfly’s winter roosts were first discovered by Dr. Fred Urquhart.

I have been following the butterfly counts around the US as they were reported. The Monarch population has been decimated in California. This year only about 30,000 butterflies were counted, down from several million just two decades ago. There is the very real possibility that the Monarch butterfly will become extirpated (extinct from an area) on the West coast. The winter count is down drastically in Florida as well.

It was clear though that east of the Rockies–the Midwest and Northeast regions of the US, as well as southern provinces of Canada–there were many more Monarchs in gardens and on the wing than in recent previous summers.

Leading Monarch scientists are reluctant to become excited about the increase, and justifiably so. Last spring the weather was slightly cooler in Texas, which allowed more Monarch eggs to hatch, which in turn allowed more caterpillars to mature. A greater number of butterflies emerged and set the stage for a strong breeding season throughout the summer. That scenario, along with the overall good weather during the summer of 2018, also helped create ideal conditions. It was a true “goldilocks” summer, not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

In autumn of 2018, the Monarchs arrived to Mexico about a week later than usual, but once they began to arrive, a kaleidoscope of butterflies poured into their winter roosting grounds.

The 2018-2019 Eastern population count is a reprieve from the past ten years of heartbreaking news, but one good year does not change what the butterflies need most, which is protection for the Monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.

Monarch and Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia)

There is disagreement among scientists whether planting milkweed has any bearing on the health of the Monarch butterfly population. Does creating corridors of Monarch habitat help mitigate the death and destruction caused by climate change, modern agricultural practices, the devastating use of pesticides and herbicides, and the planting of GMO crops (corn, sorghum, and soybeans, for example) that were engineered to withstand the deadly poisons, but which wildflowers and caterpillars cannot?

Monarch Butterflies and New England Aster, Gloucester, 2018

I think the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Monarchs are a bellwether species. The love for this one butterfly has helped to shape a consciousness towards all species at risk. An uncomplicated stand of milkweed and asters can make every public walkway, park, community center, church, school, and backyard a haven for Monarchs and together we can bring about a conservation victory for the pollinators.

CATHERINE RYAN’S BEAUTIFULLY CURATED EXHIBIT AT THE CAPE ANN MUSEUM – ONCE UPON A CONTEST

My friend Catherine Ryan has curated and designed a wonderfully fun and beautiful exhibit, “Once Upon a Contest: Selections from Cape Ann Reads,” currently on view at the Cape Ann Museum.  The exhibit highlights local writers and artists of children’s picture books from the Cape Ann Reads initiative. Cape Ann Reads, hosted by the area’s four public libraries (Sawyer Free, Rockport, Manchester, and Essex), was created to encourage literacy in young people through community and creative collaborations.

The exhibit is thoughtfully designed for little folks. The paintings are hung at just the right height for pint-sized readers and soon-to-be readers. Mock-ups of the books are placed on shelves within easy reach and petite chairs for little ones make for a cozy storytime feeling.

I took Charlotte to the Museum on Friday and she had a fantastic experience. We’re planning to return again this Friday!

Come join us at the opening celebration from 3:00pm to 5:00pm, this Saturday, January 5th, at the Cape Ann Museum, 2nd floor.

“Once Upon A Contest” runs from December 20th through February 24th.

Thank you to Charlotte and her Mom and Dad for the photos! The watercolor illustration Charlotte is sitting in front of is from my book, “Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly,” which was the original inspiration for the documentary film of the same name. The illustration shows a pair of Monarchs ascending into a maple tree, as they are mating. 

The Cape Ann Museum is free to Cape Ann residents during the entire month of January!

Author/illustrators included in the exhibition:
Leslie Galacar, Martha Shaw Geraghty, Marion Hall, Steven Kennedy, Charles King, George King, Michael LaPenna, James McKenna, Barbara McLaughlin, Alexia Parker, Victoria Petway, Jim Plunkett, Diane Polley, Mary Rhinelander, James Seavey, Gail Seavey, Kim Smith, Christina Ean Spangler, Bonnie L. Sylvester, Juni VanDyke, Maura Wadlinger, Betty Allenbrook Wiberg, Kirsten Allenbrook Wiberg, Jean Woodbury and Claire Wyzenbeek

Exhibit Curated and Directed by Catherine Ryan, with support from the Bruce J. Anderson Foundation.

Deborah Kelsey, director of Gloucester’s Sawyer Free Library

Cindy Grove, director of the Rockport Public Library

Sara Collins, director of Manchester’s Public Library

Deborah French, director of Essex’s TOHP Burnham Public Library

Monarch Butterfly Film Update

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 Dear Friends,

I have so much to be thankful for – my family, friends, work, film projects, and all of you for your generous donations to the documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.

 If we’ve spoken recently, then you know that over the past months I have been adding new scenes, from the Monarch migration of 2017, and from our most recent beautiful fall migration of 2018. This past week we screened the film for my two amazing producers Lauren and Susan (they both loved it and provided excellent feedback!). In the coming weeks the film next goes to an audio engineer and to a film “finisher,” with the goal of having a final cut in hand by the end of February. I’ll be sending updates more frequently now that the project is beginning to spread her wings.

My sincerest thanks to you for being part of the wonderful journey of Beauty on the Wing.

Wishing you much love, joy, and beauty in the coming year.

Kim

Tightly Packed Cargo Ready to Sail

Milkweed seedpods in the afternoon sun