summer 2013

Friday, September 16, 2011


Welcome to Fiji!   #24

I have been planning this page for several months.  I was introduced to the lowly milkweed plant last fall during our fall cleanup day at the demonstration garden.  I had never seen them up close, just from a distance when the pods had opened to release the seeds. This I usually observed from a car window while taking a ride in the country with my parents many decades ago.

I was shown that if you tear the leaf,  a white, milky liquid seeps out of the leaf.  This liquid is poisonous to most insects and birds.  Just a few insects feed off this plant.  It is also one of the few host plants for the Monarch Butterfly larvae and eggs.  Interestingly enough, these insects all have similar coloring.  Very bright orange and black markings to alert predators to leave them alone, as they will be toxic to eat.  There is another butterfly with similar markings that is not poisonous to birds.  The Viceroy Butterfly does not eat the milkweed, but the birds will steer clear because they mimic the Monarch so closely.

milkweed leaf

milkweed beetle

milkweed bugs working on making more milkweed bugs

Milk weed is a perennial, a Maryland native, and crucial to the survival of the Monarch Butterfly.  I was so surprised by how pretty the flowers were up close and how sweet the scent of the flower is.  The Monarch will lay her eggs on a milkweed leaf.  When the eggs hatch, the larvae hang around and eat the leaves.  This is their only food source at this stage.

Below is an early spring picture of our Master Gardener Demonstration Garden on Montevue Lane.
milkweed plants have the larger oval leaves.  Check out plant at 9:00
a group of milkweed at the MG Demonstration Garden

milkweed flower - Asclepias syriaca - Common Milkweed

seed pods
pods open and seeds are blown away by winds

I took a trip down to Brookside gardens today and got some incredible picture of the Monarch Butterfly at different stages of development.
information sign at Brookside

The small, round, cream color dots are Monarch eggs

Monarch caterpillar

caterpillar attached and starting chrysalis stage

chrysalis - you can see the outline of his wings!

when the chrysalis turns black, the butterfly is almost ready to emerge

would not cooperate and open wings fully

profile of Monarch

This is the last generation this summer of Monarchs in our area.  The group that is hatching now will travel to Mexico to spend the winter.  Along the way, the butterflies depend on late blooming flowers for their food source.  Asters, Ironweed, and Goldenrods are examples of some late blooming natives.

After their winter in Mexico, this butterfly will start the trip back.  It will breed along the way and its' descendants will return to our area in the spring.

Now, about host plants.  No host plants, no Monarchs. The Monarch Butterfly larvae will only eat a few plants.  It is classified as a Milkweed Butterfly.  With Suburbia encroaching on rural areas, we are losing a lot of our native plants.  The milkweed is not a plant of choice in a well manicured, suburban garden.  Let's face it, it gets ugly after the flowers are done blooming.  But, there are other options.  The butterfly weed is shorter and neater.

butterfly weed - Asclepias turberosa

 getting ready to release seeds

Below is a plant I found on my farm.  I didn't see him at the time, but if you look hard, in the upper third of the picture slightly right of center, you can see the stripes of the monarch caterpillar attached to the underside of a leaf.  I can't believe I didn't see him,  I even looked!

swamp milkweed in my boggy field by stream at farm  - Asclepias incarnata

Once the butterflies have emerged, they can feed off many flowers.  Even the butterfly bush, which has become an invasive plant in some areas.  In Oregon it is classified as a noxious weed.  I have planted a lot of natives this year to keep butterflies in my garden.   Rule #1  NO PESTICIDES.   Most pesticides don't care if you only want to kill certain bugs.  Most kill all bugs.

Well,  first cold day here.  It is now 46 degrees at 0824.  Will spend a few hours in the vegetable gardens cleaning up and removing old mulch and throwing into compost bins, and planning my fall and winter crops!

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