It Is Hard To See The New England Asters For All The Monarchs!

  Monarch butterfly migration is well under way.

I watched my last Monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis four days ago and later in the afternoon held a perfect female out to the large sky so that she might fly and realize her new potential. It is always a thrill for me to watch a butterfly take its first flight. I can never turn away from the magic of this experience to step back into a normal tone of any day . . . the send-offs always paint the remaining hours a golden hue . . . opening imagination that too might soar.

I owe all this joy to the native plant Asclepias syriaca or Common Milkweed, which I encourage to grow in my garden and fields and as most already know is a host plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars.

I was a bit sad to see my last little ward fly away knowing I would not have this precious experience again until next year, when I hope to gather and bring inside young milkweed plants with eggs fasten to their leaves so that I can observe and care for the Monarch caterpillars that become these extraordinary butterflies. I only collect those plants that are in harms way within the garden paths. You can see posts I have written on their miraculous metamorphosis One, Two,  Three,  Four,  here  and here.

This female Monarch butterfly is getting a late start but she is strong and flies high over the garden. It has been reported that the Monarch population is down and there is concern over what will become of so many as they fly over areas of the country towards their over-wintering mountainous sites in Mexico . . . especially Texas . . . that has suffered from extreme heat and drought.

Here at Flower Hill Farm we do our part to help the population of Monarch butterflies. The last few days of September I happened upon at least one hundred butterflies each day feasting on the native asters that grow in large clumps around the garden and fields. Some butterflies may just be stopping by this ‘Monarch Way Station’ for a quick drink before continuing on their journey but many, I believe, emerged here in the gardens, for their wings appear so very fresh and perfect. I did eye more than one female this summer laying eggs and each would have fastened up to five hundred eggs upon young milkweed plants scattered around the gardens.

There were flawless females (above) and mint males (below) but they do not have time to play around and mother nature makes it so in cleverly not having their reproductive organs fully developed at this time. This diapause will keep them focused on fueling up for their long perilous journey. No romance for these Monarch butterflies until next spring just before they begin their return migration along Mexican corridors and into Texas, where the females will lay eggs and both males and females die leaving the new generations to carry on.

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae New England aster is a favorite nectar plant for butterflies and bees. These robust perennials can reach from two to six feet in height and are particularly favored by this gardener, for rabbits and even deer do not find them tasty. They paint the fall landscape in vivid swaths of pinks and purples, at times adding splashes of bold oranges. Growing easily from seeds or divisions New England Asters prefer a moist soil. The few days that I was able to enjoy all the added contrasting colors of the Monarchs were pure magic. Cultivating milkweed and native asters will help populations of Monarch butterflies survive and offer you great delight, for their wild beauty and important butterfly and bee food source. Before the Monarchs arrived, I would stand next to the flowering New England asters and it seemed as though an entire bee hive were affixed for all the buzzing I could hear.

I wonder what the reports are in your areas. Are you seeing many migrating Monarch butterflies? I hope that millions will make it to the mountains in Mexico and I dream of returning there one day too to see thousands in their overwintering sites.

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  1. says

    Even though the monarch isn’t likely to go extinct, the migration may very well in the coming decades. I’m so fearful about next summer–how late will they show up here (this year it was July 15, two months later than 2010), and when they do show up, how few will there be? If a winter storm slams them in MX, it’s nearly hopeless. But besides New England aster a big monarch magnet, I’ll ass Aster laevis and ironweed, both still blooming here in Nebraska and both bringing in monarchs almost as well as New England aster. I raised 130 monarchs this year, and got some friends to join in to for the first time–for all of us, this first hand miracle witnessed is a testament to all we don’t see in the garden, and don’t need to. That’s how faith works, and planting for insects and wildlife is the best kind of faith I know.
    Benjamin Vogt recently posted..We’ve Got Color & Blooms Until the 11th Hour

    • says

      Thank you for sharing Benjamin. Monarchs showed up late here this year too. I wrote about my first sighting on July 14! Monarchs have been around for millions of years, hopefully we will continue to enjoy their migration but they may well find alternatives if harsh weather forces them to. Perhaps emergency corridors could be constructed somehow. I await the news of how they make it back to Mexico. My ironweed gets eaten by the deer but the monarchs here do love the blooms too, along with other varieties of native asters, late goldenrod and rudbeckias in the garden.
      Carol Duke recently posted..Berry Busy Fussy Birds

  2. says

    Stunning photos, Carol! I’m down in Florida right now taking care of my mom, but every morning I take a few minutes to sit outside in her garden and enjoy the many Monarchs passing through. And yes, there is great concern that the Monarch migration is an endangered phenomenon. We need to encourage our towns to stop spraying roadside edges where milkweed proliferates and we each need to build a Monarch Waystation in our own gardens to help them on their way, just as you describe.
    Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..Fall Garden Chores, or NOT

    • says

      Thank you Carole! I hope your Mom is improving. The Monarchs that migrate to Florida may be gathering near you. I do not know exactly where they overwinter there. Also there are more in California but no where near the millions that overwinter in Mexico. I so agree that roadside spraying and gmo crops – especially corn – must stop. The more Monarch Waystations the better too. Though in general I do not care for hummingbird feeders . . . in an emergency like the one in Texas they could go a long way in helping the butterflies too. Water too could be put out for the migrating Monarchs.
      Carol Duke recently posted..Berry Busy Fussy Birds

  3. says

    Carol I have to say I see more and more of them in my area since I have propagated milkweed, butterfly weed and asters. They also go crazy for my helianthus in fall too. Also the asters and common milkweed are still all around the roadsides here which is great for the monarchs. They are on their way now so I wish them well on their journey South. I hope to find more caterpillars and eggs next year…it was an amazing sight in my meadow and garden this year. What amazing pictures you captured and I loved all your monarch posts…
    Donna recently posted..Wisdom

  4. says

    I was surprised to see one lone monarch in my yard two days ago. She spent the night on an old withered-up milkweed and was covered with dew yesterday morning. I hope she makes it to Mexico!
    I raised 200 monarchs this year, and I like to picture them flying on their way, though I know they won’t all make it.
    Since I don’t have much space in my urban/suburban yard, I grow more swamp milkweeds than common milkweeds, although I know they really love the common milkweed’s leaves.
    There’s more about monarchs in my yard at .

    • says

      Thank you for sharing your experience with raising Monarchs Janet. I love all your posts! I always whisper good luck to my little wards as they take off on their first flight. I know as you say most will not make it. I do not want to ever tag one to know. I will just have faith as Benjamin mentions and hope that some that were raised here will make it to the overwintering sites. The swamp milkweed is a good alternative to the common milkweed.
      Carol Duke recently posted..Berry Busy Fussy Birds

  5. says

    Here in SW Virginia, we’ve had a steady stream of monarchs passing through town for about 4 weeks now. No matter where I am, the grocery store, the mall parking lot, stopped at a red light, I see them floating overhead heading south. I believe I’m seeing many more monarchs than I did last year.
    Julie Stone recently posted..Finally! Pictures of the Monarchs!

  6. says

    A great idea for a team based website Carol. I know you are new to the team and quite the team too.
    I see the monarchs migrate in and out some times, it’s wonderful to see. I certainly have more in my garden than I used to with an increased emphasis on native plants. I have never had the opportunity to see any metamorphose, hopefully one day.

  7. Melanie says

    Carol, the photographs are amazing! They make me feel as if I’m looking out of a window at the asters that are alive with butterflies. I especially love the picture of you releasing one of your delicate friends….just as you’re wishing it good luck, it is more than likely thanking you for providing nourishment for the long trip ahead.
    I had lots of visitors in my garden this summer. Lantana was their food of choice. One day I think I counted 14 butterflies on one bush. When I witness a sight like that I am in awe of the Creator! Thanks for sharing.

  8. says

    Beautiful photographs and what an amazing number of Monarchs. I wrote and illustrated a book about the relationship of the Monarch and Milkweed titled Mother Monarch. So often butterfly gardeners forget the food plant for the caterpillar. Don’t forget to tell everyone to plant milkweed! I raised over 50 Monarchs in my backyard in Florida. I have been studying and painting the life cycles of plants with their butterflies for the past 5 years. I have been planting the host plants and it is amazing….. If you plant them……. they will come! Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos and garden.
    Mindy Lighthipe recently posted..Monarch Butterfly Festival

  9. says

    Hi Carol,

    I just read your story about how you have attracted so many monarchs to your farm last season and I absolutely love your photos of the monarchs among your wildflowers and such.

    We are trying to promote the visitors of the Cincinnati area to plant Milkweed in their gardens for the Monarchs this year, so we are showing the film “Flight of the Butterflies” and we have created a Monarch Waystation pledge.

  10. Dee says

    Thank you for the informative article & beautiful photos Carol! I’ve been looking for a Monarch magnet for the new border I’m planting, & this beautiful Aster will be planted there in mass!
    Here in Chicago we’re not seeing many Monarchs. This past summer, in 2013, I had quite a few, but I believe most of them were the Monarchs I raised & released that came back to visit & feed here everyday. There numbers have steadily decreased in the area. A Monarch sighting is a rare event. We had an unusually warm October with temps in the 70’s. I had many Monarchs passing through on the migration south. I have the only house with native nectar & host plants for miles. My tiny yard must look like an oasis for the exhausted hungry butterflies looking for a place to stop, rest & feed. I hope that others will become educated about the benefits of native plants & plant for the local wildlife. I’ve learned so much from all of the posts on here, it has completely changed the way I think about gardening.


  1. […] It Is Hard To See The New England Asters For All The Monarchs! “Monarch butterfly migration is well under way. I watched my last Monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis four days ago and later in the afternoon held a perfect female out to the large sky so that she might fly and realize her new potential. It is always a thrill for me to watch a butterfly take its first flight” by Carol Duke […]

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