Tag Archives: Tithonia

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.

WHY IT’S WAY TOO EARLY IN THE SEASON TO DO YOUR ANNUAL FALL GARDEN CLEAN-UP!

Our fall pollinator gardens are a rich tapestry of expiring stalks, fresh blossoms of asters and goldenrods, fading blossoms of garden favorites, and vibrant annuals getting a second wind after the intense heat of summer. Blooming in a medley of of rose and dusty pink hues, violet, purple, crimson, rusty red, yellowed greens, Spanish orange, golden yellow–the colors are made more vivid in the atmospheric glow of autumn’s light.

Monarchs, Sulphurs, Painted Ladies, American Ladies, Swallowtails, and Buckeyes are just some of the butterflies on the wing, hungrily seeking nectar to sustain their journeys. Not to be forgotten are a host of songbirds, and too, honey bees and native bees, all also in need of sustenance.

Tips for early fall maintenance, with pollinators in mind.

1) Tidy-up anything that looks really raggedy, but leave the tall dry stalks of plants such as sunflowers, Joe-pye, Echinacea, and Rudbeckia. The stalks provide winter shelter for many species of bees.

2) Dead head plants such as Butterfly Bushes and Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia), which encourages continued bloom.

3) No need to bother deadheading Zinnias and Cosmos as they will flower whether or not the expired blooms are removed. The seed heads provide food for Goldfinches, Nuthatches, and many species of resident and migrating songbirds.

4) Don’t forget to provide blossoms and sugar water for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Our annually returning female and her 2018 brood of two has departed for the season, but we have been daily visited by southward migrating RTHummers.

Even on a cloudy October day our front dooryard garden at the Mary Prentiss Inn is abuzz with blossoms and pollinators. The Monarch nectaring at the Tithonia was the first to greet me while checking on the garden.

KEEP THOSE MONARCH BABIES COMING!


Several days ago, while a Mama Monarch was busy ovipositing several dozen eggs on the Marsh Milkweed growing in our garden, facebook friend Amy T shared a photo of three Monarch caterpillars munching on her Marsh Milkweed. It’s been a banner year on Cape Ann for Monarch butterflies and caterpillars – let’s hope they all make it to Mexico!

WELCOME TO THE MARY PRENTISS INN POLLINATOR PARADISE!

The exquisite Greek Revival architecture of The Mary Prentiss Inn complements perfectly our lively pollinator paradise, bursting with blossoms and bees. We’ve layered the garden in an array of nectar-rich perennials and annuals that bloom from spring through fall and the garden has become mecca for neighborhood pollinators (including seed-seeking songbirds).

Plant for the pollinators and they will come!

Three-bee-species scene at The Mary Prentiss Inn pollinator garden.

The Mary Prentiss Inn Owners Nicholas and Jennifer Fandetti.

Perfectly lovely prior to turning the old garden into a pollinator paradise, but everyone agreed, it was time for a change.

Bee and blossom alike dusted in a fine golden shower of pollen.

LEARN HOW YOU CAN HELP THE POLLINATORS AT THE SAWYER FREE LIBRARY TONIGHT!

Seaside Goldenrod for Bees and Butterflies

Come on over to the Sawyer Free Library tonight and learn how you can create a welcoming haven for birds, bees, and butterflies!

Plant Cosmos for the Songbirds, Bees, and Butterflies

Marsh Milkweed for the Butterflies and Bees

Male and Female Luna Moths

Zinnias for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Bees, and Butterflies

Mexican Sunflower and Bee

Monarch and Hibiscus