The mystery of the tiny green caterpillar found on one of my Common Milkweed plants has been solved (I think). The caterpillar wasn’t eating milkweed, but looking for a safe place to become a chrysalis.
The caterpillar pupated overnight and I believe it is the chrysalis of the Cabbage White Butterfly, also known as the Small White Butterfly.
Small White chrysalis
In a week or so, we’ll know for sure when it emerges. I wonder what it has been eating in my garden because I don’t see any damage to foliage; so curious to know!
The Sulphurs ,Whites, and bees adore this lovely lavender purple aster that blooms in my garden non-stop for nearly two months. Unfortunately, I can’t share the the specific species name because this beautiful wildflower is a happy volunteer. From where it came, I know not. Over the past several years the clump has grown larger and larger, is in a place I’d rather plant something else but because it is so attractive to so many butterflies and bees, I’ll let it have its way.
Tomorrow evening I am giving a presentation on how climate change is impacting Monarchs for Cape Ann Climate Change Coalition. I am looking forward to presenting. Please join us if you can! RSVP with Zoom link to the meeting is on the Cape Ann Climate Change Coalition’s website on the ‘NEWS/EVENTS’ page. www.capeannclimatecoaltion.org
Thank you so very much to everyone who is donating to our online fundraiser to bring Beauty on the Wing to American Public Television. To date, we have raised over $17,000.00. To learn more about the fundraiser, please visit my website at kimsmithfilms.com and donate here.
Today Charlotte spotted the first Monarch in our garden and we saw the first in the dunes at Good Harbor Beach today as well. Both were depositing eggs on Common Milkweed! My friend Patti shares she saw one flitting about in her (fabulous) butterfly garden today, too. They are here and butterflies love this warm weather. Plant milkweed and they will come!
Kim Do you live on Cape Ann and are concerned about climate change? Come to our quarterly meeting on Tuesday, June 29 at 7-9pm and see what we are doing about it on a local level. We have action groups working on: Carbon Sequestration; Climate Arts; Community Building & Education; Energy Efficiency; Renewable Energy; and Vision, Policy & Legislation.
The Meeting will also include: “The Monarch Butterfly and Climate Change”
A Presentation by Kim Smith- There is no more urgently needed time than the present to learn about how we can all help protect the Monarch Butterfly.
“Electrifying Everything!” And what this means for local city and town governments and us individually. A Presentation by Jennifer Wallace Brodeur of VEIC
RSVP with Zoom link to the meeting is on our website on the ‘NEWS/EVENTS’ page. http://www.capeannclimatecoaltion.org
Tuesday evening I will be giving a presentation about how climate change is impacting Monarch Butterflies for the Cape Ann Climate Coalition’s quarterly meeting. Jennifer Wallace Brown is giving a presentation “Electrifying Everything.” I hope you can join us! This event is free and open to the public.
Please consider making a tax deductible donation to our online fundraiser to bring Beauty on the Wing to American Public Television. More information can be found at kimsmithfilms.com and monarchbutterflyfilm.com
Tuesday evening I will be giving a presentation about how climate change is impacting Monarch Butterflies for the Cape Ann Climate Coalition’s quarterly meeting. Jennifer Wallace Brown is giving a presentation “Electrifying Everything.” I hope you can join us!
Although Monarchs have been sited as far north as 46 degrees, it is still very early for us even though we are at 43 degrees latitude because we are so far east. Please write if you see one in your garden. And feel free to send a photo. I will post photos here. Thank you so much!
Keep your eyes peeled, especially on emerging milkweed shoots. In the photos below, Monarchs are drinking nectar from, depositing eggs on, and also mating on the milkweed plants. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) are the two most productive milkweeds for the Northeast region.
This year we have a sweet photo from yesterday of our Papa PiPl snuggling all three chicks, not just one chick as was the case last year on Father’s Day. I wrote, “Whenever folks stop by to ask questions at the nesting area and they see the little chicks snuggling under the adult PiPl, they almost automatically assume it is the Mama Plover. Half the time it is the female, and the other half, the male. Mom and Dad share equally in caring for the chicks, generally in twenty minute to half hour intervals. They are always within ear shot and while one is minding the chicks, the other is either feeding itself, grooming, or patrolling for predators. Last year, as is often the case, the Mama Plover departed Good Harbor Beach several weeks before the chick fledged, leaving Little Chick entirely under Papa’s care.”
But there is more to the story about what makes Piping Plover males Super Dads. Papa is not only an excellent Dad in that he is a fifty/fifty caretaker of the chicks, but male Plovers are also fierce defenders of their family. Our Papa is no exception. He is always on high alert, especially when it comes to the Bachelor and his antics. Between gulls, crows, other avian predators, human caused disturbances, and even danger from one of their own kind, it’s not easy being a Plover Dad.
Papa Plover warming all three chicks. They were fifteen days old on Saturday morning.
The Bachelor tries to camp out in the protected area. Papa is having none of it and leaps up to give chase to the Bachelor.
Papa and the Bachelor smack down over control of the protected area.
Male Piping Plovers fight, and even bite, competing males for mates and for nesting territory.
Two weeks ago today, four tiny Piping Plover chicks hatched at Good Harbor Beach. Nesting got off to a rocky start, with the mated pair first attempting to nest at the beach, then at the parking lot, but then thankfully, returning to their original nest site.
The relative peace on the beach, excellent parenting by Mama and Papa PiPl, cooler than average temperatures, vigilant monitoring by a corps of dedicated volunteers, outpouring of consideration by beach goers, as well as support from the DPW, City administration, and City Councilors has allowed the chicks to attain the two-week-old stage of maturity. With each passing day, we can see the chicks are gaining in strength and fortitude and listening more attentively to their parent’s voice commands. Adhering to Mama and Papa’s piping calls is an important milestone in their development. The parents continuously pipe commands and directions, warning of danger and directing the chicks to come to a stand still. The tiny shorebird’s best defense is its ability to blend with its surroundings when motionless.
The chicks spent the early morning warming up and foraging at the protected area. Afternoon found them camped out at the creek.
Snapshots from the morning
There was a group of young people stationed near the PiPl protected area enjoying the beach on this fine sunny afternoon. All was good though as the chicks were perfectly safe, foraging far down the creek. With gratitude and thanks to everyone who is helping to keep our PiPl family safe.
There has been more interest than anticipated in Monarch eggs. Thank you to everyone for writing!
At present, Jane has over 100 caterpillars in her kitchen terrariums. These will become butterflies within the month, and each female that emerges will lay between 300 to 700 eggs. I’ve compiled a list of everyone who left a comment. We are thrilled and grateful readers are so interested in helping raise Monarchs this summer. I will contact all as soon as Jane has a new batch of freshly laid Monarch eggs.
In the meantime, I am going to type up some FAQs. I also suggest using a glass rectangular fish tank/terrarium, with a fitted screen top, for rearing the caterpillars. If you don’t have one, they are available at our local pet stores. Also, a package of cheese cloth. Along with a plentiful supply of milkweed, that’s all you will need.
A friend with a lovely garden just loaded with milkweed would like help this summer raising Monarchs. She is located in the Annisquam area. Last year Jane had so many eggs and caterpillars, she had a real time of it trying to take care of all. This year promises to be as good as, if not better than, last year.
If you would like Monarch eggs and information on how to take care of the eggs and caterpillars, please comment in the comment section, and we will provide you with Monarch babies!
A very brief update to let all our Friends know that work is progressing on my documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. The new footage from this year’s magnificent migration in Mexico has been added. My amazing team, Eric and Kristen, are plugging in the newly recorded voice over.
For the next several weeks, I’ll be planting my client’s pollinator gardens and getting them underway for the summer. After mid-June, we’ll be back in the editing studio with Eric and Kristen finessing the color correction and audio, with plans for a mid-summer release. Happy Butterfly Days!
Tree-top view – standing at the top of the mountain looking down into the valley below. All the orange bits and flakes in the trees are Monarchs.
In early March, the native wildflower White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) was at bloom in Cerro Pelon and the Monarchs couldn’t get enough of it!
So many Monarchs this early in the season portends a possibly great summer for butterflies in our meadows and gardens. It’s the perfect time of year to plant Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seeds and many of our local nurseries carry Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) plants. These two species are the most productive for Monarch eggs and caterpillars in our region.
Monarchs mating in a patch of Common Milkweed.
Monarch drinking nectar from Common Milkweed florets. Female depositing egg on Marsh Milkweed foliage.
The milkweed we grow in the north supports spectacular migrations such as the one that took place this past winter of 2018-2019.
David Rhinelander had one two days in a row at his garden on Pine Street, Heather Hall spotted a Monarch at the Hamilton Library, Jennie Meyer had one in her garden and sent along some photos, Donna Soodalter-Toman had one in her yard, Jen in Rockport has them, and Susan Donelan Burke saw a Monarch in Magnolia. This is very early and thank you so much to Everyone for writing!
Keep your eyes peeled for Red Admirals and Painted Ladies, too.
Red Admirals nectaring at lilacs. The last time we had so many Red Admirals in our garden in May was in 2012 and that was a banner year for butterflies of many species.
In the above photo compare the Monarch to the Painted Lady. If you see a “small” Monarch, it may be a Painted Lady or a Red Admiral.
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
The most joyous story about Cape Ann wildlife during the summer months of 2018 is the story of the high number of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in gardens and meadows, seen not only in strong numbers along the Massachusetts coastline, but throughout the butterfly’s breeding range–all around New England, the Great Lakes region, Midwest, and Southern Canada.
Three days after celebrating the two week milestone of our one remaining Piping Plover chick, Little Pip, he disappeared from Good Harbor Beach. It was clear there had been a bonfire in the Plover’s nesting area, and the area was overrun with dog and human tracks. The chick’s death was heartbreaking to all who had cared so tenderly, and so vigilantly, for all those many weeks.
Our Mama and Papa were driven off the beach and forced to build a nest in the parking lot because of dogs running through the nesting area. Despite these terrible odds, the Good Harbor Beach Piping Plover pair hatched four adorable, healthy chicks, in the parking lot. Without the help of Gloucester’s DPW, the Piping Plover volunteer monitors, Ken Whittaker, Greenbelt’s Dave Rimmer, and the AAC, the parking lot nest would have been destroyed.
These brave little birds are incredibly resilient, but as we have learned over the past three years, they need our help to survive. It has been shown time and time again throughout the Commonwealth (and wherever chicks are fledging), that when communities come together to monitor the Piping Plovers, educate beach goers, put in effect common sense pet ordinances, and reduce trash, the PiPl have at least a fighting chance to survive.
Little Pip at twelve- through seventeen-days-old
All four chicks were killed either by crows, gulls, dogs, or uneducated beach goers, and in each instance, these human-created issues can be remedied. Ignoring, disregarding, dismissing, or diminishing the following Piping Plover volunteer monitor recommendations for the upcoming 2019 shorebird season at Good Harbor Beach will most assuredly result in the deaths of more Piping Plover chicks.
Not one, but at least two, healthy and very hungry North American River Otters families are dwelling at local ponds, with a total of seven kits spotted. We can thank the fact that our waterways are much cleaner, which has led to the re-establishment of Beavers, and they in turn have created ideal habitat in which these beautiful, social mammals can thrive.
Several species of herons are breeding on our fresh water ponds and the smaller islands off the Cape Ann coastline. By midsummer, the adults and juveniles are seen wading and feeding heartily at nearly every body of water of the main island.
In order to better understand and learn how and why other Massachusetts coastal communities are so much more successful at fledging chicks than is Gloucester, I spent many hours studying and following Piping Plover families with chicks at several north of Boston beaches.
In my travels, I watched Least Terns (also a threatened species) mating and courting, then a week later, discovered a singular nest with two Least Tern eggs and began following this little family, too.
Least Tern Family Life Cycle
Maine had a banner year fledging chicks, as did Cranes Beach, locally. Most exciting of all, we learned at the Massachusetts Coastal Waterbird meeting that Massachusetts is at the fore of Piping Plover recovery, and our state has had the greatest success of all in fledging chicks! This is a wonderful testament to Massachusetts Piping Plover conservation programs and the partnerships between volunteers, DCR, Mass Wildlife, the Trustees, Greenbelt, Audubon, and US Fish and Wildlife.
Cape Ann Museum
Friends Jan Crandall and Patti Papows allowed me to raid their gardens for caterpillars for our Cape Ann Museum Kids Saturday. The Museum staff was tremendously helpful and we had a wonderfully interested audience of both kids and adults!
In August I was contacted by the BBC and asked to help write the story about Monarchs in New England for the TV show “Autumnwatch: New England,. Through the course of writing, the producers asked if I would like to be interviewed and if footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing, could be borrowed for the show. We filmed the episode at my friend Patti’s beautiful habitat garden in East Gloucester on the drizzliest of days, which was also the last day of summer.
Bees and butterflies, as we all know, pollinate flowers, but did you know that bats, songbirds, hummingbirds, wasps, beetles, moths, flies, midges, and even nasty mosquitoes also deliver pollen from plant to plant?
Flower pollinating Green-eyed Wasp drinking nectar from Common Milkweed florets.
The eyes of the male Green-eyed Wasp are larger than the females, all the better to see her, and predators. Green-eyed Wasps are also known as sand wasps because females excavate burrowing nests in sand (as well as soil).
Male Monarch Butterfly flitting about our garden and drinking nectar from the Marsh Milkweed florets.
Notice the mass of orange Milkweed Aphids in the background. Lady Beetles are another pollinator super hero because they help milkweed plants by eating aphids.
There is an exuberant abundance of wildflowers blooming in marsh and meadow all along the shores of Cape Ann and here are just a few snapshots. When out and about on a wooded walk, you may notice a wonderful sweet spicy fragrance. What you are smelling is more than likely our native summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), which also goes by the common name sweet pepperbush; perhaps a more apt description of its potent and zippy honey-spice scent.
Plant summersweet for pollinators–bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies love the nectar-rich florets.
Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), also loved by hummingbirds
Horses neigh, bugs crawl across the lens, and Monarchs flutter in the background —interview on the mountaintop and it was all beautiful! Video includes footage from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.
Monarch Migration Interview with Tom Emmel, filmed at the summit of the Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Angangueo, Mexico.
This was Tom’s 40th trip to Angangueo to study the Monarchs. In this interview, he provides some historical perspective from those very first trips to the remote Oyamel fir forests atop the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Mountains. We learn how scientists count millions of Monarchs. Tom discusses the state of the Monarch migration today and why it is in crisis.
Tom Emmel is the Director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Museum of Natural History of the University of Florida, Gainesville. Additional footage shot at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Reserve and at the base of Sierra Chincua.
Monarch Caterpillar Eating the Foliage of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Thank you readers and Monarch Butterfly friends for forwarding the following article from the NY Times!
By Michael Wines
Published December 20th, 2013
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Bounding out of a silver Ford pickup into the single-digit wind-flogged flatness that is Iowa in December, Laura Jackson strode to a thicket of desiccated sticks and plucked a paisley-shaped prize.
It was a pod that, after a gentle squeeze, burst with chocolate brown buttons: seeds of milkweed, the favored — indeed, the only — food of the monarch butterfly caterpillar.
Once wild and common, milkweed has diminished as cropland expansion has drastically cut grasslands and conservation lands. Diminished too is the iconic monarch.
Dr. Jackson, a University of Northern Iowa biologist and director of its Tallgrass Prairie Center, is part of a growing effort to rescue the monarch. Her prairie center not only grows milkweed seeds for the state’s natural resources department, which spreads them in parks and other government lands, but has helped seed thousands of acres statewide with milkweed and other native plants in a broader effort to revive the flora and fauna that once blanketed more than four-fifths of the state.Monarch caterpillar hanging from a Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) leaf rib, in the characteristic J-shape, readying to pupate.
Nationwide, organizations are working to increase the monarchs’ flagging numbers. At the University of Minnesota, a coalition of nonprofits and government agencies called Monarch Joint Venture is funding research and conservation efforts. At the University of Kansas, Monarch Watch has enlisted supporters to create nearly 7,450 so-called way stations, milkweed-rich backyards and other feeding and breeding spots along migration routes on the East and West Coasts and the Midwest.
But it remains an uphill struggle. The number of monarchs that completed the largest and most arduous migration this fall, from the northern United States and Canada to a mountainside forest in Mexico, dropped precipitously, apparently to the lowest level yet recorded. In 2010 at the University of Northern Iowa, a summertime count in some 100 acres of prairie grasses and flowers turned up 176 monarchs; this year, there were 11.
Many, many friends have forwarded the following article from the New York Times, “The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear.”
Female Monarch Depositing an Egg
In the above photo, the female Monarch Butterfly is curling her abdomen around to the underside of the Marsh Milkweed plant. She chooses the most tender foliage toward the top of the plant on which to deposit her eggs.
Begin New York Times article, published November 22, 2013 ~
ON the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day. They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned.
This year, for or the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.
“It does not look good,” said Lincoln P. Brower, a monarch expert at Sweet Briar College.
It is only the latest bad news about the dramatic decline of insect populations.
Another insect in serious trouble is the wild bee, which has thousands of species. Nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids are implicated in their decline, but even if they were no longer used, experts say, bees, monarchs and many other species of insect would still be in serious trouble.
That’s because of another major factor that has not been widely recognized: the precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States.
“There’s no question that the loss of habitat is huge,” said Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, who has long warned of the perils of disappearing insects. “We notice the monarch and bees because they are iconic insects,” he said. “But what do you think is happening to everything else?”
A big part of it is the way the United States farms. As the price of corn has soared in recent years, driven by federal subsidies for biofuels, farmers have expanded their fields. That has meant plowing every scrap of earth that can grow a corn plant, including millions of acres of land once reserved in a federal program for conservation purposes.
Another major cause is farming with Roundup, a herbicide that kills virtually all plants except crops that are genetically modified to survive it.
As a result, millions of acres of native plants, especially milkweed, an important source of nectar for many species, and vital for monarch butterfly larvae, have been wiped out. One study showed that Iowa has lost almost 60 percent of its milkweed, and another found 90 percent was gone. “The agricultural landscape has been sterilized,” said Dr. Brower.
The loss of bugs is no small matter. Insects help stitch together the web of life with essential services, breaking plants down into organic matter, for example, and dispersing seeds. They are a prime source of food for birds. Critically, some 80 percent of our food crops are pollinated by insects, primarily the 4,000 or so species of the flying dust mops called bees. “All of them are in trouble,” said Marla Spivak, a professor of apiculture at the University of Minnesota.
Farm fields are not the only problem. Around the world people have replaced diverse natural habitat with the biological deserts that are roads, parking lots and bluegrass lawns. Meanwhile, the plants people choose for their yards are appealing for showy colors or shapes, not for their ecological role. Studies show that native oak trees in the mid-Atlantic states host as many as 537 species of caterpillars, which are important food for birds and other insects. Willows come in second with 456 species. Ginkgo, on the other hand, which is not native, supports three species, and zelkova, an exotic plant used to replace elm trees that died from disease, supports none. So the shelves are nearly bare for bugs and birds.
Native trees are not only grocery stores, but insect pharmacies as well. Trees and other plants have beneficial chemicals essential to the health of bugs. Some monarchs, when afflicted with parasites, seek out more toxic types of milkweed because they kill the parasites. Bees use medicinal resins from aspen and willow trees that are antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral, to line their nests and to fight infection and diseases. “Bees scrape off the resins from the leaves, which is kind of awesome, stick them on their back legs and take them home,” said Dr. Spivak.
Besides pesticides and lack of habitat, the other big problem bees face is disease. But these problems are not separate. “Say you have a bee with viruses,” and they are run-down, Dr. Spivak said. “And they are in a food desert and have to fly a long distance, and when you find food it has complicated neurotoxins and the immune system just goes ‘uh-uh.’ Or they become disoriented and can’t find their way home. It’s too many stressors all at once.”
There are numerous organizations and individuals dedicated to rebuilding native plant communities one sterile lawn and farm field at a time. Dr. Tallamy, a longtime evangelizer for native plants, and the author of one of the movement’s manuals, “Bringing Nature Home,” says it’s a cause everyone with a garden or yard can serve. And he says it needs to happen quickly to slow down the worsening crisis in biodiversity.
When the Florida Department of Transportation last year mowed down roadside wildflowers where monarch butterflies fed on their epic migratory journey, “there was a huge outcry,” said Eleanor Dietrich, a wildflower activist in Florida. So much so, transportation officials created a new policy that left critical insect habitat un-mowed.
That means reversing the hegemony of chemically green lawns. “If you’ve got just lawn grass, you’ve got nothing,” said Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society, a leading organization in insect conservation. “But as soon as you create a front yard wildflower meadow you go from an occasional honeybee to a lawn that might be full of 20 or 30 species of bees and butterflies and monarchs.”
First and foremost, said Dr. Tallamy, a home for bugs is a matter of food security. “If the bees were to truly disappear, we would lose 80 percent of the plants,” he said. “That is not an option. That’s a huge problem for mankind.”
Jim Robbins is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and the author of “The Man Who Planted Trees.”
* * *
My note about milkweeds ~
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the milkweed we see most typically growing in our dunes, meadows, roadsides, and fields. It grows quickly and spreads vigorously by underground runners. This is a great plant if you have an area of your garden that you want to devote entirely to milkweed. It prefers full sun, will tolerate some shade, and will grow in nearly any type of soil. The flowers are dusty mauve pink and have a wonderful honey-hay sweet scent.
Marsh Milkweed (Aclepias incarnata) is more commonly found in marshy areas, but it grows beautifully in gardens. It does not care for dry conditions. These plants are very well-behaved and are more clump forming, rather than spreading by underground roots. The flowers are typically a brighter pink than Common Milkweed.
Now is the perfect time of year to collect and to plant milkweed seeds, either from pods that are just splitting open or from pods that have already split and are showing their silky fluff.
There are several different methods of propagating milkweed and the following is by far the simplest. Gather milkweed seeds and store in a paper bag. At the location in your garden where you are planning a milkweed patch, lightly scratch the soil with a rake. Scatter the seeds over the soil. Sprinkle a thin layer of soil over the seeds, just enough to keep them from blowing away. That’s it! Next spring, by mid-May, you will have a patch of milkweed seedlings. This super simple method works for Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclpeias incarnata).
Note ~ when collecting seeds from wildflowers, never remove the plant from its location, and never take all the seeds.
If you’d like to learn more about this beautiful plant species, and how growing milkweed in your own garden directly benefits the Monarch Butterfly, there are over several dozen posts covering milkweed on Good Morning Gloucester; too numerous to list here. Type milkweed in the search box in the upper right hand corner of my home page to see all.
Monarch caterpillars eating Common Milkweed leaves
Monarchs usually arrive in our region by the first week in July and go through several brood cycles. This year, barely any arrived. The Monarch’s sensitivity to temperature and dependence on milkweed make it vulnerable to environmental changes. Since 1994, U.S. and Mexican researchers have recorded a steady decline in the Monarch population in their overwintering grounds, with 2012-2013 being the lowest recorded to date.
Temperature change and habitat loss affect breeding success and longevity. Dr. Chip Taylor, a leading Monarch researcher at the University of Kansas reports that the widespread adoption of GMO corn and soybean crops resistant to herbicides, along with with intensive herbicide use, coupled with the federal government’s incentivized expansion of corn and soy acreage for the production of biofuels have caused a significant drop in milkweed throughout the heart of the Monarch’s range. Lack of milkweed equals no Monarchs. “Monarch/milkweed habitat has declined significantly in parallel with the rapid adoption of glyphosate-tolerant corn and soybeans and, since 2006, the rapid expansion of corn and soy acreage to accommodate the production of biofuels,” Taylor wrote on May 29.
Monarchs Nectaring at Seaside Goldenrod
What can we do? Encourage conservation organizations that conserve Monarch habitat, plant milkweed, plant nectar plants, and raise caterpillars. Hopefully the weather next spring and early summer will be more conducive to the Monarch’s northward migration and breeding success, and if and when the Monarchs arrive, they will find our milkweed plants.
Monarch Butterflies Nectaring at New England Asters
If anyone sees a Monarch, please email me at email@example.com or leave a comment in the comment section.
Update: For more information, see previous GMG posts on Monarchs and Milkweed:
To celebrate Earth Day (Earth Week-Earth Month-Everyday is Earth Day!), I am beginning a new series on both my blog and on Good Morning Gloucester titled Habitat Gardening 101. The series is based on the lectures that I give to area conservation groups, libraries, garden clubs, and schools and is designed to provide information on the relationships between our native flora and fauna, and how to translate that information to your own garden. You will find in this series information on how to support and encourage to your garden a wide variety of wildlife, including songbirds, butterflies, bees, moths, skippers, hummingbirds, and small mammals, and the trees, wildflowers, shrubs, vines, and groundcovers that sustain these beautiful creatures.
This series could just as well be titled Beauty in Our Midst because there are so many gems to be found along our shoreline, meadows, fields, wetlands, dunes, woodlands, and roadsides. Although the series will cover a wide array of flora and wildlife, the first posts will be about several butterfly attracting trees and shrubs because they are currently in bloom. Coming Wednesday, the North American native Pussy Willow will be featured. For today, the following is one of my Top Ten Tips for Attracting Lepidoptera to Your Garden.
Habitat Gardening 101 Tip #1: Plant Caterpillar Food Plants
So you want to attract tons of butterflies to your garden and you plant lots of gorgeous, colorful nectar-rich plants—and that is wonderful. To your garden will come many beautiful, albeit transient, butterflies, along with an array of many different species of beneficial pollinators. However, if you want butterflies to colonize your garden, in other words, to experience the grand beauty of the creature through all its stages of life, from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult, you must also plant caterpillar food plants.
Black Swallowtail Butterfly Egg on Fennel (the pinhead-sized golden yellow dot)
Each species of butterfly caterpillar will only eat from a family of plants it has coevolved a relationship with over millennia. We call this a caterpillar food plant, host plant, or larval food plant.
Perhaps you may recall that the Monarch Butterfly only deposits her eggs on milkweed plants. The Black Swallowtail Butterfly deposits her eggs on, and the caterpillars feast on, members of Umbelliferae (Apiaceae), or carrot family of plants, including carrots, parsley, fennel, dill, and Queen Anne’s Lace. Some caterpillars, like the stunning Eastern Tiger Swallowtail feed from several plant families, like those of Magnoliaceae and Rosaceae, which species include the Wild Black Cherry, the Tulip Tree, and the Sweet Bay Magnolia.
If you see a green, black and yellow striped and spotted caterpillar munching on your parsley plant, it is not a Monarch caterpillar; it is a Black Swallowtail caterpillar (I am often asked this question). Monarch caterpillars are striped yellow, black, and white, always. You will never find a Black Swallowtail caterpillar munching on milkweed; likewise you will never find a Monarch caterpillar eating your parsley and fennel.
Another question frequently asked is, if I invite caterpillars to my garden, will they devour all the foliage. The answer is, for the most part, no. The damage done is relatively minimal, the plant generally recovers quickly, and bear in mind too, that plants have evolved with many mechanisms to discourage their complete destruction. Remember, the plant was responsible for inviting the butterfly to its flower in the first place!
Note too, that if you invite butterflies to your garden to deposit their eggs, please don’t turn around and spray pesticides, which will kill all, indiscriminately. A habitat garden, by its very definition, is an organic garden, which means no herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers.
Feel free to send any and all questions, suggestions for a topic, or curiosity, to the comment section under each post.
Cape Ann Milkweed Project Update: Because of the chilly spring weather, milkweed shoots are slow to emerge.
I am going to look into purchasing a large quanity of milkweed seedlings at wholesale prices for anyone in our community interested in cultivating milkweed. If interested, please leave a comment in the comment section, which will help give me an idea, very approximately, on how many plants to order. You can also wait until the fall and sow ripened milkweed seedpods. (Note: Please do not dig up any wild milkweed).
The following timely news release was in my inbox this morning!
MONARCH WATCH ANNOUNCES
‘BRING BACK THE MONARCHS’ CAMPAIGN
“In real estate it’s location, location, location and for monarchs and other wildlife it’s habitat, habitat, habitat”, said Chip Taylor, Director of Monarch Watch. Monarch Watch (www.MonarchWatch.org) started in 1992 as an outreach program dedicated to engaging the public in studies of monarchs and is now concentrating its efforts on monarch conservation. “We have a lot of habitat in this country but we are losing it at a rapid pace. Development is consuming 6,000 acres a day, a loss of 2.2 million acres per year. Further, the overuse of herbicides along roadsides and elsewhere is turning diverse areas that support monarchs, pollinators, and other wildlife into grass-filled landscapes that support few species. The adoption of genetically modified soybeans and corn have further reduced monarch habitat. If these trends continue, monarchs are certain to decline, threatening the very existence of their magnificent migration”, said Taylor.
To address these changes and restore habitats for monarchs, pollinators, and other wildlife, Monarch Watch is initiating a nationwide landscape restoration program called “Bring Back The Monarchs.” The goals of this program are to restore 20 milkweed species, used by monarch caterpillars as food, to their native ranges throughout the United States and to encourage the planting of nectar-producing native flowers that support adult monarchs and other pollinators.
This program is an outgrowth of the Monarch Waystation Program started by Monarch Watch in 2005. There are now over 5,000 certified Monarch Waystations – mostly habitats created in home gardens, schoolyards, parks, and commercial landscaping. “While these sites contribute to monarch conservation, it is clear that to save the monarch migration we need to do more,” Taylor said. “ We need to think on a bigger scale and we need to think ahead, to anticipate how things are going to change as a result of population growth, development, changes in agriculture, and most of all, changes in the climate,” said Taylor.
According to Taylor we need a comprehensive plan on how to manage the fragmented edges and marginal areas created by development and agriculture since it is these edges that support monarchs, many of our pollinators, and the many forms of wildlife that are sustained by the seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, and foliage that result from pollination. “In effect,” Taylor argues, “we need a new conservation ethic, one dealing with edges and marginal areas that addresses the changes of the recent past and anticipates those of the future.”
The above photo of a male (right) and female (left) Monarch Butterflies on Marsh Milkweed is part of the GMG/Cape Ann Giclee photography show, currently on view at Cape Ann Giclee.
Recently a design colleague wrote inquiring as to the best time to mow her client’s fields as she was concerned about disrupting the breeding cycle of the Monarch butterfly. I am often asked this question and it is well worth considering, not only for the sake of the Monarchs, but for the survival of the myriad species of butterflies, bees, and other pollinating and beneficial insects that find food and shelter in untilled fields.
Newly Emerged Monarch Butterfly
I generally advise my readers and design clients that own similar untilled fields to alternately mow in stages–half a field at a time. The Monarch is a large, charismatic butterfly with an easily observed life cycle. The typical field comprised of native (and introduced) wildflowers and grasses creates a rich biodiversity, supporting innumerable species of butterflies and beneficial insects. It is hard to know when exactly to mow for each different species and when to mow for even one single species because, from year to year, depending on many variables including temperature and air currents, the insects breeding times are somewhat variable. For example, this year I have had three broods each of both Monarchs and Black Swallowtails, when in a more typical year I may only have two broods.