omg. just where do i even start. pictures, kim. always start with pictures. :0)
so ive always had this love for nature. a respect, an admiration - and a severe fascination. When i began really learning about the Monarch Butterfly (beyond the basic love and butterly-chasing behavior y’all know and love me for…), it was mostly because I was a brand new Master Gardener and our Teaching Garden is a Monarch Waystation, home to SOMUCH milkweed for the butterflies to munch!! And protected from nasties like lawn chemicals and pesticides that alter the natural balance. In the beginning I learned mostly about the Monarch butterfly's reliance on the milkweed plant. This is so cool - See, the milkweed is the ONLY PLANT that the tiny Monarch caterpillars recognize as food. A relationship thousands of years old tells that itty bitty caterpillar that this plant is food but that plant is not. That little guy KNOWS this on a VERY deep level. It's that milky substance that the plant leaks - it provides sustenance and strength and even toxicity!! If the Monarch caterpillar cannot find Milkweed, (there are a dozen(ish) native/naturally occurring milkweed species in Virginia), he will starve looking for it. AND SO - guess what plant those adult Monarch butterflies are searching for to feed those babies? MILKWEED!!!
But will they lay eggs on other plants? yes. yes whey will. especially when the plant is so very good at providing an easy source of nectar. (Enter Butterfly Bush, into the equation) (a.k.a. WhyWeHateButterflyBush). My local stripmall has butterfly bushes planted numerously on islands around their parking lot. They attract local butterflies by the hundreds and it's really beautiful. But those caterpillars will be born on tiny concrete islands completely void of their only means of survival. :0( (yes. i know. that makes my heart hurt too.)
Here's some lovely Monarchs frequenting a Butterfly Bush in our Teaching Garden. Now here we don't worry so much about the Butterfly Bush itself because those caterpillars are surrounded by their needed milkweed.
So here's the thing about the milkweed plant, my gardenerloves, it does not look pretty 100% of the time! But when you start to understand the intricate workings of the most common visitors, you'll see the little ecosystem that works in perfect balance for the health and wellbeing of the species that represents, imho, the pinacle of the project. IF THE ENDOFTHESEASON BOTHERS YOU, CUT IT BACK! Don't let it deter you from hosting this lovely plant, just cut it back when it becomes unsightly.
and haveyoueverseen a Monarch chrysallis? these lovely hidden, jewel encrusted miracles of nature! they've got to be one of the most ornate and exquisite products of nature that i've ever laid eyes on. They're these bright green lit treasures when they're fresh. Literally with a little gold trim. :0) As the Monarch inside gets closer to completion of its' metamorphosis' completion, the chrysallis itself becomes more transparent and you can see the bold lines of the wings showing through. The explosion and reconfiguraition of a freshly hatched Monarch is really an amazing thing to watch. I had that pleasure my second year as a Master Gardener. (that's a whole 'nother post. But I got pics to show u!!) :0D
If you don't think Monarchs are aMAZING yet - let's talk about MIGRATION!
The Monarch cycle is not a cycle of individuals. It's a cycle of generations. Knowledge passed down genetically thatincludes information on what route and which direction to fly and when to mate and when to not. In Virginia, we get to see the 6th, final generation of Monarchs that came from their Mexico breeding grounds. The butterflies that are born here are born with the knpowledge of HOW TO GET TO MEXICO!!! These butterflies, this generation, will live 5-6 months, as opposed to other genrations who only live ____days. THIS generation doesn't mature sexually until after their moigration. They will arrive in Mexico on or about The Day of the Dead, a cultural celebration of ancestry and renewal and love.
BUGS THAT AREN'T BUTTERFLIES!
First, lets talk aphids. First of all, if the milkweed plant doesn't have those tiny bright golden aphids, i'm gonna secondguess the identification of the plant! The Oleander Aphid, (Aphis nerii), isn't native to North America but it appears (apparantly) out of thin air!! I mean, Where do they all come from?! The GOOD news is that, apart from also wanting to feed on the milkweed plants, they do no harm to the Monarchs. Their hostplant, Oleander, is a member of the Dogbane family and grows primarily in the south/west portions of North America. Here in Virginia, they love Milkweed! Theyre not a food source for monarchs, but coexist as long as their numbers don't become to great. The best way i've found to deal with them is a good blast with the garden hose. The occasional spray will keep their numbers at manageable levels while the monarchs munch what they need!
Unsightly though they may be, they're actually kindof amazing inandofthemselves! So these super simple soft-bodied insects have piercing mouthparts. They pierce and then drink the juice the flows through the phloem, and turn it
Natural predators - bugs that eat the aphids - include Ladybug Larvae, Lacewings, and Hoverflies.
The Monarch Butterfly has also become a very important symbol in my life. A symbol of hope. of strength. of true transformation. Those little butterflies face smog and traffic and Asian Praying mantises by the thousands. (THAT's a whole nother post right there!). On the other side of the world, (Mexico!), their arrival is celebrated on the Day of the Dead.
And then there's the Milkweed Beetle that show up for the aphids.