From the Caterpillar to the Butterfly
Our flowering gardens are butterfly way-stations
The butterflies nectaring around your garden took wing from the caterpillars nibbling there a few weeks back.
Fewer black swallowtails are flashing their wings in my garden. Many summers, all the leaves are eaten down to the stalk by the hungry white, black and yellow-stripped caterpillars that pupate black swallowtails. This summer, I’ve seen only one such caterpillar.
But I have hopes for other caterpillars, other butterflies.
My yard is one of many in Chesapeake Country hosting monarch gardens, planted with butterfly weed, black-eyed-Susans, bee balm and boneset plus milkweed, ironweed and Joe Pye weed. Day by day, the plants have grown. The black-eyed-Susans are blooming; and all of us butterfly gardeners are hoping for monarchs.
The plants will sustain the long-distance flyers with nectar. The caterpillars produced by those butterflies will eat the milkweed. Milkweed is their one and only food. I cheer their rise, for the caterpillars that eat this milkweed are like the generation that will fly all the way to Mexico to begin next year’s repetition of the ancient flight of the monarchs. The annual migration from Mexico to Canada and back takes four generations.
Monarchs usually reach our latitude in September, when I’m hoping my spring plantings will be ready to welcome them with flowers. Together, we butterfly gardeners are hoping for big returns, a regular irruption.
Once you see an irruption of monarchs you’ll never forget it. My thrill came in September, 1970, when a swarm — called a kaleidoscope in the colorful language of groupings — crashed a backyard picnic in Springfield, Illinois.
Since then, lost habitat, less milkweed and climate change have pushed the species toward extinction. The current migrating monarch population is as low as two percent of original levels.
If you see an irruption, let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.