Since coming to Florida, Bob and Bartley have been helping monarch butterflies
survive. The photo shows one on Bartley’s hand.
Bob has written about their interests.
A Helping Hand
by Bob Larocque
Now in our seventh year as full-time residents of Tanglewood, Bartley and myself have enjoyed the growing season Florida offers compared to Buffalo, NY. When we first moved down from the great white north the first thing I wanted to grow were desert roses due to their very unique appearance. Grown mostly from seed (we were later given one plant as a gift), we now have many plants that we personally keep and have also given some to friends for their enjoyment. We now have many seeds from our original plants to continue the process of growing one of my favorite plants.
A few years ago, we became aware of the alarmingly low numbers in the monarch butterfly population. Many scientists feel that without some human intervention, their spectacular migration from and to the high fir forests in Central Mexico every year could, in fact, cease to exist.
Now not all monarchs make the trip, as some do remain in Florida and California. But most in North America do make the long trip for warmer climates during the winter months. Late February they begin their fluttering mating dance in Mexico and then begin their long multi-generation trek back north.
Entering Texas, the monarchs now search out the milkweed plant. It’s both a nectar source and the host plant of this special butterfly, where the female lays her tiny eggs usually on the underside of the leaves.That generation has done their job and they go no further, their eggs however are the survival of the species. The offspring and the generations after continue their migration north on the routes that are somehow built into their genes. A truly amazing feat…..butterfly GPS? After about 3-5 days, tiny caterpillars emerge from the eggs and begin eating the milkweed leaves, their only food source until they develop into a pupa (chrysalis).
From Spring through fall up to 5 generations are produced, but the last generation of the season is the key puzzle piece and doesn’t mate. Instead it fuels its body by nectaring on flowers preparing for the migration back to Mexico. Some estimate this generation lives up to 8 months.
Pesticide and the destruction of natural habitat are the main causes of the decline of this beautiful butterfly. Widespread use of pesticides is needed, of course, by our farmers to protect and provide our food source. But it also is killing the milkweed plant. Without milkweed monarchs die. Across the USA many people have heard the call and are helping the monarchs by planting milkweed to help in their own way, AND by cutting back on using pesticides, especially around their gardens…..It’s a delightful hobby lending a helping hand to our eco system.
While our personal butterfly garden is now in transition (I’m in the process of expanding into our backyard so plants are all over the place waiting to be planted), we still enjoy ‘harvesting’ monarch eggs for our indoor enclosures, complete with milkweed, and watch the growth cycle from eggs to butterflies. After they are released we swear they stick around a few days drinking up the nectar and fluttering around us with their thanks. Some of our friends now also have beautiful gardens and are also lending a helping hand for the monarchs, kinda a cool thing.
We now grow the Mexican sunflowers ‘Red Torch’ (I had to find seeds for this beauty and they get big), verbenas, purple coneflowers, blanket flowers, asters, butterfly bushes, meadow blazing stars, marigolds, vincas and pentas……all flowers that provide nectar for the pollinators including bees and butterflies…… and even hummingbirds have been stopping by. We recently saw the largest swallowtail butterfly we have ever seen, a 4-5 inch wingspan……very cool stuff.
Plant milkweed, or grow in pots, either way it’s fun and you are helping out our monarchs.
To learn more about helping monarch butterflies survive, you may write to Bob and Bartley at firstname.lastname@example.org .