Saturday, February 1, 2014

Plant. More. Milkweeds.

For the Monarch butterflies, of course.

 Danaus plexippus has been much in the news lately. Last year's migration was the smallest ever recorded - very worrying indeed for one of the world's most amazing butterflies. There are probably a number of inter-connected reasons for the drop in Monarch numbers but a major one is the conversion of habitat to corn fields. The use of corn as a fuel source has led to several unintended consequences, the rise in the cost of rice and so on, and has led to many formerly disused fields in the Mid-US to be planted to corn.

A good discussion of the problem is at  the Washington Post's site.

And I must say, last year I saw fewer Monarchs here than any other year before. I think I only saw 3 or 4 of them. Other years there were a dozen or more. The most I saw was in 2000, when there were those beautiful turquoise egg cases all over the place. Some were even attached to some plastic pails I had left outside!

A great site devoted to the Monarch is This is run by the University of Kansas, and in addition to encouraging people to learn more about the Monarch, the university also supports serious research into its natural history. They are also the group that runs the Monarch Waystation program.

The idea is that having lots of Waystations for Monarchs will add up to a network of habitat they can use during their stay here in the northern part of their life cycle. Migrating Monarchs will arrive in early June and lay the first of several generations of eggs.  These will hatch, munch away at Milkweeds, lay more eggs and so on until eventually, by late September, the last generation to hatch here will leave for Mexico.

There seem to be two Waystations in Ottawa right now. One is at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden
and the other is in Convent Glen North. The Butterfly Meadow at the Fletcher is a beautiful spot, well worth a visit in early summer. You will see many of the Monarch's food plants - milkweeds and so on - plus some innovative butterfly resting spots and water sources.

One thing that might confuse the casual butterfly watcher is that the Viceroy butterfly looks very similar. But it is smaller, has only one row of white dots around the wings, and the black lines on the hind wings are wide and make a complete band across. Here are a Viceroy and a Monarch side-by-side so you can compare.

Neither picture is very sharp, sorry! Put it down to them moving too fast! But look at the white dots and the line across the back wings of the Viceroy and you will see the difference.

So..... I signed up to be a Monarch Waystation. Ambitious, yes, but you know what they say, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp", or no, maybe I mean, "A woman's reach should exceed her husband's grasp", no, that's not right either, how about 'A woman's reach should exceed her grasp". Got it!

I'm calling it Monarch Drive at Pine Ridge and the plan is just to encourage the milkweeds that are already there. In the dry parts along the driveway near the road and closer to the house there are plenty of Common Milkweeds, Asclepias syriaca, and in the damp area between there is a growing patch of Swamp Milkweed, A. incarnata. I have a few plants of Butterfly Weed, A. tuberosa in the garden as well and maybe I can get some seeds from them this summer and start more. They aren't hard to start from seed but dividing them is tricky - they have taproots and don't like being disturbed. Also they need sandy soil, so I'll have to site them carefully.

I've ordered one of the nifty signs the Monarch Watch site offers and signed up at eButterfly. This site allows you to record your butterfly sightings - take a look there and see what you think. Could be fun!

Meanwhile, if you have a spot for them, Plant. More. Milkweeds. this summer!

No comments:

Post a Comment