The Monarch Butterfly Story
As the weather in Mexico and Southern California warms in the spring both the male and female Monarch’s begin their journey north. Both the “Eastern” and “Western” Monarch’s travel north but neither cross the Rockies with the “Eastern” monarchs returning to Mexico in the fall and the “Western” Monarchs to Southern California. Their food source along the way is “Asclepius” Milkweeds. After traveling for 4-5 weeks, capable of flapping its wings continuously for up to 44 hours and gliding and soaring for as many as 1060 hours at altitudes up to 10,000ft., the female lays eggs on the underneath side of Milkweed leaves and shortly thereafter dies. In four to five days tiny caterpillars emerge and begin to munch away on the Milkweed leaves and in 10-14 days grow to a full size beautiful green, white, yellow, and black caterpillar that moves from the Milkweed plants in search of a safe place to hide and form its chrysalis. It may suspend itself from other plants, rocks, trees, furniture, shingles.… After a day or so the caterpillar begins to hang like a J and shortly after begins the formation of the bright green Chrysalis cocoon with a gold ring at the top. It only takes a minute or less for the caterpillar to form its chrysalis and then 20-30 minutes transforming itself into a butterfly inside the cocoon.
After about a week the chrysalis begins to darken and gradually the bright colors of the developing monarch can be seen just prior to it busting out of its cocoon after 10-14 days. The monarch must wait until its wings are dry before taking flight to complete the next leg of the journey north. This process repeats itself 2 more times with the emerging 3rd generation Monarch being born as far north as the Canadian border. This Monarch however is the Super Monarch. As the weather begins to cool in the fall this magnificent butterfly begins the 2000-3000 mile journey all the way back to Mexico and winters there before starting the migration process all over again in the spring. Eddie Woodin, friend, mentor, and Master Gardener sums up this magical process with these words, “confirms the Monarch is God’s creation not evolution.”
Here are some things I have learned while developing a Monarch Butterfly “Waystation” Garden.
Monarchs as well as other butterflies and bees will be attracted to any garden with pollinating and nectar producing flowers and shrubs like Joe Pye Weed, Zinnias, Hydrangeas, Cone flowers, Sunflowers, goldenrod…….
Monarchs will remain in a single location and return to this area generations later if, besides the pollinating and nectar producing flowers and shrubs, the garden has Common, Swamp, and Butterfly Milkweeds.
Monarchs lay their eggs on and the evolving caterpillars feast on the leaves of all three of these milkweed plants. The leaves of these Milkweed plants are poisonous to animals and humans if consumed in large quantities. The poison “Cardiac Glycoside” helps to protect the Monarch Butterfly from predators.
Most nurseries do not carry Common Milkweed because it is an aggressive “rhizome” weed and not as pretty as Swamp and Butterfly Milkweed.
If attempting to transplant Common Milkweed make sure to take a large root ball because while the root is shallow the “rhizome” travels laterally often more than a few feet.
Help save the Monarchs by adding “Swampies” and “Butterfly Milkweed” to your garden for beautiful color and sustainable food for the monarchs.
If you want to witness the magic of the Monarch life cycle watching as butterflies multiply in your garden add all 3 Milkweeds and other pollinating plants and flowers.
Dr. Len Saulter
3 Fundy Rd.
Falmouth, Maine 04105