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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