Save the Monarch: Plant a Milkweed!

milkweed

Last year Ms. Jeannie traveled approximately 13,000 miles via car over the course of 52 weeks. Last year the North American monarch butterfly traveled 3,000 miles via wing over the course of nine weeks. Ms. Jeannie mainly drove around her neighborhood and her city with a few side trips around the state. Butterfly flew halfway across the North American continent, traveling through at least six United States, one Canadian province, and half of Mexico.

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On average last year Ms. Jeannie traveled about 39 miles a day via car. On average last year, Butterfly traveled 47 miles per day via wing on her two and half month road trip. Ms. Jeannie’s car runs on gasoline which brought her to the fill-up station about 120 times over the course of the year. Butterfly runs on nectar which brought her to the fill-up station about eight times during the course of her journey.

monarch_nectar

Ms. Jeannie’s car is an incredible piece of machinery able to get her from here to there on a whim’s notice.  But Ms. Jeannie’s car is nothing compared to the flying machine that encapsulates the strength and stamina of a migrating monarch. Butterfly’s migration is one of nature’s most epic adventures, which is why you’ll find a photo of her pinned to Ms. Jeannie’s true adventurers board on Pinterest. That’s the place where all of history’s great travelers and outside-of-the-box thinkers congregate and where Ms. Jeannie heads when she needs a little inspiration.

A partal list of true adventurers. Clockwise from top left: Photographer Imogen Cunningham, Elizabeth Taylor, Monarch Butterfly, Explorer Tom Crean, Aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Explorer Jacques Cousteau. To visit Ms. Jeannie's board and see all the adventurers click the photo.
A partial list of true adventurers… clockwise from top left: photographer Imogen Cunningham, actress Elizabeth Taylor, epic traveler Monarch Butterfly, explorer Tom Crean, aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh and explorer Jacques Cousteau. To visit Ms. Jeannie’s board and see all the adventurers click the photo.

Along with all icons who undertake brave and unbelievable feats there is almost always a strong support system behind them.  Julia Child had her husband Paul, Jacques Cousteau had a research foundation, Anne Frank had her diary. And so it goes with butterflies. Monarch has the milkweed.

Vintage 1953 botanical print of the showy milkweed painted by Mary Vaux Walcott.
This vintage 1953 botanical print of the showy milkweed painted by Mary Vaux Walcott is availiable in Ms. Jeannie’s shop. 

Bright, beautiful and stately in size (up to 6 feet tall!), the milkweed plant is where Butterfly takes refuge. It’s the one place that not only offers a safe and idyllic spot to lay her eggs but it also offers the only source of nourishment to her babies in the form of a food when the wee ones are in the larval stage.

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It’s the fill-up station for the winged world delicates!  There used to be billions of monarch butterflies floating around our skies, but now there are only millions. Their significant decline in numbers is due in part to the disappearance of the milkweed plant. Commercial farming and urbanization has cleared the earth in important areas along the migratory trail of the butterflies and the resting spots where they congregate making it increasingly more difficult for monarch butterflies to reach maturity.

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Not having enough milkweed plants to butterflies is like not having enough gas stations for cars. Each needs the other and each won’t operate without the help of the other.  So this is where you come in… as a cheerleader, support staffer, tribe member and all around champion of the mighty monarch you can make an immediate difference in the life of a winged wonder by planting milkweed seeds in your garden or your balcony flower pots or by scattering seeds in grass lots around your neighborhood. It doesn’t matter if you live in California, or New York, Arizona or Maine all milkweed plantings in all states help one cause. You’ll be sustaining the lives of migrating butterflies as well as assisting other pollinators that bring so much benefit to so many other creatures both in and out of the garden.

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There’s also an added bonus to being helpful. Milkweed flowers are beautiful! Available in a range of colors from red orange to pink to pale peach they are named after the milk colored latex coursing through their stems (a defense mechanism), which makes them unattractive to chewing worms.

Vintage Wildflower Guide published in 1948 by Edgar T. Wherry. Read more about this book here.
There was lots of interesting milkweed information in this vintage wildflower guide published in 1948 by Edgar T. Wherry. Read more about this book here.

Much prettier than any gas station or rest stop area for cars, these fill-up stations for butterflies have been around since the 17th century and contain over 140 different varieties. As a family they are known as Asclepias with a petal layout complexity most closely associated to that of orchids.  As one of nature’s most intricate flowers they are made up of a collection of petals on a spray of delicate stems that eventually meet in one main stalk – sort of like the flower head of Queen Anne’s Lace or a loose version of the flowering garlic bulb. Leaves also range in color depending on the variety from silver green to dark emerald.

seed pods!

When the milkweed goes to seed it forms a pod of white silky hairlike plumes that launch on a breezy day, spreading seed around the neighborhood like pin-sized snowdrops. Imagine a whole gigantic field blowing in the wind at once – it would a veritable summer storm of beauty!

Easy to grow and care for, you can find seeds for under $2.00 a pack at Botanical Interests (Ms. Jeannie’s favorite seed company) or at your local garden center. March – May are perfect times to plant Milkweed in time for fall harvest and fall migration.

Seed starting indoors!
Seed starting indoors!

If you are a travel lover like Ms. Jeannie, you’ll appreciate the need to help our fellow flying friends get to where they need to go. Road trippers need to look out for one another on the highways of life, so Ms. Jeannie hopes that you will join her this summer in the great garden challenge – Milkweed for the Monarchs! Throughout the spring and summer she’ll be keeping you updated on her butterfly garden’s progress. It would be incredible if you did too:)

To see just how exciting it is to help and host butterflies, visit Ms. Jeannie’s 2013 archives when the season of the swallowtails unfolded week by week right here on the blog.

Happy helping dear readers!

*All butterfly photos courtesy of pinterest.

 

 

 

Announcing the Butterflies: One, Two and Three

They’ve arrived, they’ve arrived!

The butterflies, dear readers, are born! Here’s their first photo shoot. Each butterfly emerged on a different day so Ms. Jeannie named them appropriately.

Meet Wednesday – the first butterfly…

Brand-new!
Brand-new!

Wednesday was the one, if you recall, who chose to cocoon underneath the flower petals of the gerber daisy. A most pretty spot.

Ta-dah!
Ta-dah!

Here she was stepping out of the cocoon. Ms. Jeannie just missed her actual emergence by sheer minutes. She had just checked on all three of the cocoons (status quo) and had gone around the corner to cut some herbs for dinner. Five minutes later – here was Wednesday fanning out her new wings.

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It was a slow-going little journey up the stalk of the flower while she figured out her legs  and the tricky business of holding on. But by the time Ms. Jeannie took this aerial view, Wednesday was an expert!

Hello butterfly!
Hello butterfly!

Because Ms. Jeannie had missed the actual moment of Wednesday unzipping the cocoon doors, she was determined to at least catch Wednesday’s  first moment of flight on camera. She didn’t how long this would take. So she waited. And she waited.

Ms. Jeannie’s cat, Satchem (incidentally named after a butterfly, herself) even waited with her for awhile.

oh the anticipation...
oh the anticipation…

This gave Ms. Jeannie some time to explain to Satchem that there would indeed be no butterfly dinners in her future. She seemed to understand. Eventually though, she lost interest in the butterflies altogether and fell asleep underneath the tulip tree.

Meanwhile, Wednesday just stayed in her same spot, fanning those wings and taking in her new surroundings.

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After 25 minutes of waiting, Ms. Jeannie got side-tracked and went on to other projects – but she came back to check every few minutes. Going into the second hour, Ms. Jeannie came out to check and there was Wednesday on her petal and  then in a flash of a second, there she wasn’t.

She flew off into the garden so fast it was all Ms. Jeannie could do to frantically photograph her flying through the air. Unfortunately this is the best photo she got…

First flight!
First flight!

You can just make out the fuzzy swatches of orange as Wednesday flapped her wings. So long pretty girl!

The next butterfly to emerge was Thursday…

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Like Wednesday, Thursday also chose the afternoon hours to emerge – although this little butterfly decided to come out just as the storm clouds started to rumble.  The wind picked up considerably, and Ms. Jeannie feared that Thursday would get blown away before he had any sort of chance to get his bearings.

With some his legs, not attached - it looked perilous for a moment...
You can see him sort of half-hanging there – it looked perilous for a moment…

But Thursday knew what he was doing. He was being blown about quite a bit – but he para-sailed through the high winds like a champ. Apparently, those stickly little legs are a lot stronger than they look!

Then the rains came – torrential downpours so heavy Ms. Jeannie considered clipping the stalk he was on and bringing it onto the screened porch just to give him a chance to get his act together.

But again, Thursday, adapted. Although this time, he crawled back down to his cocoon and hung onto both the casing and the stalk for extra support.

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The rain came down for hours and Thursday hung on. The moment the sun came out, he fanned his wings out  a few times and went in search of sunnier skies. Again – Ms. Jeannie managed to grab her camera in time for the first flight – but Thursday was fast – so this is the best she could do…

Only a slight improvement was Wednesday's photograph!
Only a slight improvement was Wednesday’s photograph!

The next day it was back to full hot Georgia sunshine and Friday decided that this was his day to join his pals.  Friday was the one who chose to cocoon behind the wooden spinach sign – in what Ms. Jeannie thought was the most disguised location of the group.

Ms. Jeannie was most curious about this ones color pattern since he had a different color cocoon than the others. But he turned out just the same!
Ms. Jeannie was most curious about this one’s color pattern since he had a different color cocoon than the others. But he turned out just the same!

If Friday picked a shy spot to nest, he certainly wasn’t shy about coming out. He immediately started climbing up the wood spike…

So long cocoon, Friday's on a mission!
So long cocoon, Friday’s on a mission!
Friday's on a mission.
He climbed…

He climbed and climbed...

…and climbed…
and climbed...
and climbed…

All the way to the top of the sign, he climbed. And then do you know what he did?

He climbed over the other side and gave Ms. Jeannie the most beautiful display…

Ohh...
Ohh…

So handsome and so perfectly balanced, he almost looked fake. Like someone had positioned him there on purpose!

so perfect!

And then, just like the others he was there one minute and off exploring the world the next. This time, Ms. Jeannie was sort of ready – but boy is it hard to capture these little fellas when they are flying!

Definietly the best of the flight pictures - but no photo awards for Ms. Jeannie on this front:)
Definitely, the best of the flight pictures – but no photo awards for Ms. Jeannie on this front:)

So there it is – the tale of the three black swallowtails.  Most likely, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will stay close to the garden enjoying a bevy of summer flowers before finding their own loves and making more swallowtail babies. Ms. Jeannie hasn’t seen them since their birthdays – but she feels like they could be close by. Of course, if she sees any fluttering about the garden, she will photo them for you to see too. Hopefully by that time, she’ll have improved upon those flight photos!

Watching these little guys grow was a completely amazing experience for Ms. Jeannie, packed to the brim with hope and wonder. If you missed the previous posts, read about the beginnings of the butterflies (as caterpillars)  here and (cocoons) here.

Crunch, Crunch, Crunch…

…crunch…crunch…crunch…

What’s that in the garden, Ms. Jeannie hears?

someone's been enjoying the garden greens...
someone’s been enjoying the garden greens…

It appears as if someone’s dived into the salad bar in the garden! The feasting is happening in the parsley plant that Ms. Jeannie just blogged about the other day. Do you remember this…

Parsley, spinach and gerbers!

That was the parsley plant just 9 days ago. And now this is what it looks like today…

it's a stem garden!
it’s a stem garden!

Oh dear! What happened you ask? Well, my darlings, it seems Ms. Jeannie’s been invaded by these little characters…

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The culprits!

The swallowtail butterflies. Or, to be more exact, the infants of  swallowtail butterflies.

Upon first spotting them, Ms. Jeannie had to make an immediate decision – save the parsley or propagate the butterflies. Apparently in nature you cannot have both! This turned out to be an easy decision for Ms. Jeannie. After all,  parsley is not nearly as exciting as a butterfly (sorry green leafy friends), even though her herb did look beautiful and bountiful next to the gerber daisies and spinach.

Once she became pro butterfly, Ms. Jeannie began to thoroughly enjoy her new dinner guests. They are quite cute in that young baby way, with their fat bellies and their energetic ways.

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This is the last stage of babyhood for these guys. They are ferociously devouring the parsley (oh the eating habits of teenagers!) so that they can build enough strength, stamina and sustenance to cocoon themselves for the nest few weeks while they grow into butterflies.

Ms. Jeannie is seriously hoping that they cocoon  in the pot, but she’s not sure what the game plan is for that stage. Research says they like long grasses or house foundations, somewhere away from the birds. Ms. Jeannie has both of those nearby but how would she ever find them in the long grasses?

Ms. Jeannie looks forward to seeing the butterflies emerge and hopefully spend a little time in her garden once they’ve winged out.

Once they are at that stage, they’ll look like this…

Swallowtail Butterfly photograph by Michelle Reynolds
Swallowtail Butterfly photograph by Michelle Reynolds. Click for info.

Butterflies in mythology have long symbolized renewal. Perhaps Ms. Jeannie is cultivating some new changes in her life, or perhaps it’s just nature taking its course. Every summer it seems like there is some magical event that occurs over and over again in Ms. Jeannie’s life, a theme if you will, or a special situation that heralds that specific year with a specific reference. Last year it was the summer of the cows, the year before that, it was the summer of the fireworks. Ms. Jeannie would be thrilled if this was the summer of the butterflies:)

If all goes well with her brood, she’ll have just under a dozen butterflies, floating on the mid-summer breeze. Keep your fingers crossed! Adult butterflies impact the environment most actively by pollinating plants and flowers which is why they are beneficial to have in your garden. Even though they have short life spans, most just a few weeks, they can bring endless joy to a garden for seasons and spirits long after they are gone.

Ms. Jeannie never fails to be amazed and surprised by the sight of a butterfly. For such a fragile creature to last for weeks, let alone minutes in our environment astounds her. Perhaps that’s why they are so magical. They start out camouflaged en masse, creeping and crawling, but one by one they turn inward, wrapping themselves in their own comforter, stewing in their own protection, before emerging a changed creature, light and independent.  They are the best case scenarios, the happy endings, the freedoms of ability that is at the root of all human yearnings.

Ms. Jeannie is glad to have a little part in the continuation of such symbolism and hope in her little corner of the world.

The Lamb and the Butterfly via pinterest
The Lamb and the Butterfly via pinterest

More on the butterflies  (hopefully) coming soon!