Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Monarch Waystations, An Update

Posters depicting migration patterns and life cycle of Monarch butterflies.
I've written a number of posts on Monarch Waystations (which I have referenced below), but I thought an update on one of the boldest was due. This one has the distinction of being "boldest" primarily because of the cooperation necessary with a federal agency (the U.S. Forest Service) and because it was the largest initiated by its sponsor, Joyce Pearsall, up to this point. Since she has now entered into an agreement with one of our most popular state forests, DuPont State Forest, I have a feeling that this older project will not maintain that distinction for long!


Common milkweed, just gearing up!
Finally accomplished is the installation of some prints from Monarch Watch, as you see above. The kiosk at the Pisgah Forest Ranger Station had two portions which were blank--the spot we selected faces the end of the gardens which contain the milkweed patch (monarch waystation). To protect the investment spent on the posters, each was laminated, inserted into frames with plexiglass instead of glass (much lower chance of breakage), and then we taped the back of the frames with aluminum tape, to be sure that bugs couldn't get to the posters from behind. After hanging the frames, we installed cedar (which is used on the other parts of the kiosk) to ensure that the frames could not be lifted from their positions without a great deal of bother. The cedar also makes sure that the pictures stay hanging perfectly level. It would bother me greatly if they were not level.  :)

Common Milkweed, just getting started for the year.
Joyce always plants common milkweed, which is the best for increasing larval toxicity, at least on the eastern side of the country. This is because common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, contains higher concentrations of cardiac glycosides. Yes, that's right, you shouldn't eat it either! There are 44 varieties of milkweed documented as "native" to North America, according to my favorite source for native plant info, Wildflower.org (link in the sources). While I currently only have Asclepias tuberosa (orange butterfly weed) and Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed), I hope to carve out spaces for some common milkweed, soon.


Tuberosa is probably the least toxic variety, but it stays very low. Swamp milkweed will get three to six feet tall (as does common milkweed) and likes wet feet, as you might have guessed. Great addition to a rain garden, if you've got one going. Mine, in clay soil on a slope, has yet to get above the three foot mark. I'd love to try Asclepias humistrata, which is evergreen--but it likes things hot and dry. Not going to get that in THIS county! Browse the link below for varieties that are native to and will succeed in your area.


Asclepias Tuberosa--blooms starting to form.
Remember: the use of pesticides or Round-Up around these plants will cause the poisons to be absorbed into the plant--killing your baby caterpillars. Please share this with others who want to help the Monarchs. I just have this feeling that "pesticides" sometimes means to people that only bugs they consider "pests" will be harmed. Since they LIKE butterflies, they think that that the poison won't be directed at them. It's magical thinking, and too many people are guilty of it. So spread the word to ditch the garden poisons.

Any and all milkweeds will benefit more than monarchs--they are of "special value" to native bees, bumble bees and honey bees, as well. This designation--"special value"-- means that pollination ecologists have documented large numbers of native bees/bumble bees/honey bees using these plants. So if you know somebody who farms or just has a little vegetable garden, these would be beneficial to those efforts, as well!

Wikipedia had this to say about the status of milkweed in modern agriculture "Historically throughout the US corn belt, Milkweed has flourished between crop rows. Genetically modified corn and soy beans are resistant to glyphosate (RoundUp), so spraying on these GMO crops has largely eradicated Milkweed on millions of acres and is destroying much of the Monarch butterfly population. Along with bees, Monarch butterflies are one of the principal pollinating insects in North America." Yet another reason to buy organic produce. 

As a closing remark, beyond planting your own milkweed, let me encourage you to support monarch programs in schools. You can help out by purchasing a kit for your favorite school or child here.

More posts on this topic: Invincible Vines for an Invincible Lady, Planning a Monarch Waystation, Fauna of the Week: Monarch Butterfly, Not the Day I Planned

Sources: Monarch Watch, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Wikipedia

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