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Posts Tagged ‘Milkweed’

“Often a butterfly stopped to rest there.

Then Laura watched the velvety wings…”

On the Banks of Plum Creek – Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

Like the young Laura Ingalls of the Little House books, I watch the “velvety wings” of butterflies. I squeal with girlish glee when a Monarch flits by, dipping around as if by the mere breath of the breeze, partaking of the abundance of native flowers flourishing in our prairie garden.

The plight of the Monarch butterfly has been well documented and its migratory flight has been monitored for more than a decade. I have often shared photos and thoughts about the Monarchs and bees in the journey of this little blog, from travels afar to what is right under my nose here along the Cutoff.

Last summer was alarming, especially here when I saw but one Monarch. One. This year, I have spotted at least a dozen and have found Monarch eggs and caterpillar on the milkweed – enough times to have perfected my happy dance. Butterflies have been flitting about and stopping to sip on the Joe Pye Weed, the Monarda (bee balm), and Echinacea (cone flowers) which are all a bloom in these dog days of summer. There are bees and moths and other pollinators that also show up on sunshiny days, sipping sweet nectar from the cups of flowers. It is a regular insects’ tea party, if ever there was one, here among the native plants and some of their distant relatives.

This increased activity is encouraging for those of us who have worried about the changes in nature that have occurred in these past decades; we counters of bees, planters of pollinators and taggers of “velvety wings” who have become a small army of citizen scientists. I am cautiously optimistic.

As I brandished my watering wand, I reflected on how much is yet to be done and how much has already been accomplished on our little acreage . I watered some newly introduced cone flowers and pulled that rascal, Creeping Charlie, who was cavorting  among the feverfew and indigo, and I imagined Laura’s life along Plum Creek.

How our little prairie has grown! Established in August, 2013, it is now a crowded confusion of exuberance and joy that will need dividing and some expansion of plots come Autumn. For now, I’m enjoying watching those velvety wings of nature as the plants reach for the sun and spread their arms in a blowzy embrace of prairie life.

I remain appreciative of all the green thumbs who shared their plants in our little adventure, and I am optimistic with this glimmer of hope for the Monarchs and the bees.

Here are a few photos of the prairie garden being developed in 2013

and recent photos of the garden today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I was fretting, bending and stretching and gazing onto every petal and leaf, careful not to disturb a bumblebee, so drunk on pollen she was stuck in a milkweed blossom.  Where there had been, just an hour before, a very large caterpillar munching away on a leaf, there was now no caterpillar and the leaf quite severed.  A few steps away, another caterpillar, much younger in his leafy transactions, was also missing in action.

Where had they gone?

Tom came out to help me search, with nary a caterpillar in sight.

We moved about, picking up sticks and pulling up weeds in that haphazard way gardening folks have of impulsively tidying up, then, standing like honor guards of the milkweed, something flitted about, cast its shadow, dusted the daisies and other blooms before finding its target, where it sat for a spell, sunning its wings in the sunshine.

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Oh, and I finally found the caterpillars late in the afternoon.

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IMG_1243 - Version 2The sweet scent of milkweed was calling me as I wandered around at dawn, tea cup in hand, wearing a sweatshirt against the unseasonal chill in the air. I could see a few deer in the weeds, nursing their young in the lot next door and there was a conversation between two cardinals I overheard as I strolled out front toward nature’s incense.

I had been checking the milkweed each day, looking for eggs, hoping. I had noticed several holes in the leaves; a sign that something was eating the leaves, then I saw it!

I rushed back in for my camera;  monarchical paparazzi that I am.

DSCN8952There on a leaf was a Monarch caterpillar, munching and inching its way along a milkweed plant. I must have gone back to check on it five or six times yesterday, and repeatedly today. Under a leaf, up and down the stem, even half hidden in between the flowers of the plant, there was this very hungry caterpillar, marching his way on the host plant.

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A lone Monarch caterpillar sharing the gifts of a milkweed plant with bumblebees and ants is not going to alter the precarious plight of the Monarch butterfly, but, to me, this black and yellow striped insect brings the tiniest bit of hope that perhaps, just perhaps,  there will be a few more Monarchs this summer and that they will go forth and multiply.

Be sure to click on the photos for a better look.

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Can you see it?

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Closer?

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Now can you see it? Click on the photo.

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This is one of five caterpillars I could see, ferociously eating a leaf of the milkweed plant. It was eating in a circle, munching and lunching and doing it’s “thing”. I was so excited to see them, a mature Monarch flitting nearby, stopping to sip on the nectar of the flowers atop the milkweed.

Last year, I counted one. One Monarch butterfly. Only one Monarch all summer long in my garden. To see these beautiful insects eating away on their host plant in front of my eyes was exciting. It gave me hope – and it gave me courage. Maybe, just maybe, one by one, little steps, like planting milkweed, that citizen scientists like you and like me can do will help save the Monarch.

Let’s at least try. Okay?

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Sometimes

DSCN3400words just can’t express the awesome force of nature. Please click onto the pictures to really see the art of survival.

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Born Inside a Pod

DSCN3299Tiny seeds of life, born inside a pod.

They cleave to white feathers that will hitch upon an autumn breeze and arise again as milkweed.

I am harvesting these from the milkweed we have here and will toss them in a designated area here on the Cutoff, hoping to grow a bigger patch; hoping to help sustain Monarchs.

I will leave the rest of the pods to mark their own paths, but, shhh, don’t tell my neighbors.

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DSCN2464I love to sprinkle the garden; the sound of water hitting the ground, the smell of earth that rises to one’s senses, the twittering of robins close by, hoping for a quick dip in a puddle. It is my time for thinking all those put aside thoughts and daydreams, observing the minutia of plant life.

I water mostly in two stages; one day the front, the next the back. Then, there is the deck, which is just about every day, especially come midsummer. While I don’t like the long hauling of hoses, once I’m at where I need to be, I enjoy the idleness of soaking my plants, especially the hostas, who perk right up with their leaves, as if praising the heavens when given a drink. They show their gratitude with the most amount of grace. The hydrangea take a bit longer, with rewards of giant blooms for just a nip or two, but after a spell. The whole garden enjoys a good , long soaking, especially after the 95° days we’ve been experiencing.

I’ve gotten ahead of myself, however. There  I was, a few days ago, before the big heat arrived, watering a big batch of  brunnera. The sun was aslant as it does ’round ’bout four, and I neared the milkweed in bloom.

Have you ever smelled milkweed in bloom? Its scent is aromatic, especially toward dusk; a perfect, intoxicating invitation to insects, particularly the monarch butterfly.

DSCN2445There has been only one monarch this summer. One. I’ve checked and rechecked the leaves of the milkweed, hoping to find some eggs, a cocoon, a caterpillar. Nothing.

A few smaller butterflies have flitted about, mostly cabbage whites, along with an army of ants and a lone  bumblebee. I’m worried, truly alarmed. There was a shadow on the underside of one leaf as I watered. Upon a closer look, I could see something wiggling about. He (or she) was slowly moving up the leaf, antennae groping, back legs slowly pushing forward.

Had I not been watering, I would not have seen this little green bug, toiling away, his shadow visible under a milkweed leaf. I watched him for a time, garden hose in one hand, camera in the other, imagination full speed ahead  . . .

. . . yep. I like to water the garden. How about you?

You will likely need to click on the top picture to see this well camouflaged insect. If you know its identity, please let us know. DSCN2450

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Well, time to water again – and see what is lurking under the milkweed.

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