After a summer spent watching for butterflies, we celebrate each one which crosses our path this October.
I say, “Crossing our path” intentionally. We cringed each time a Monarch came fluttering towards the windshield as we drove along the Colonial Parkway this weekend.
We believe they all survived, carried in the wind over the roof of our car and safely on their journey.
Often, as I stopped to take photos, familiar orange and black wings lit somewhere nearby.
Monarchs and Painted Ladies delight us as they flutter around our garden on these warm, late October afternoons.
A Painted Lady enjoys nectar from Lantana in our garden.
Paging through the new “Winter” issue of Arts and Crafts Homes, I was a little surprised to see a photo of Monarch butterflies crowded on an evergreen branch. Since the butterfly is a common motif in “Arts and Crafts” decor, the decline in our butterfly population rated an article even here.
Artist Amy Miller is raising Monarch butterflies in her kitchen!
The article explains how Amy set up a “mating tent” made of mosquito netting in her home, stocked with nectar flowers and fresh milkweed. Amy brings pairs of butterflies to the tent, releasing the males back into the wild after mating. Females are kept until they lay their eggs on the milkweed.
Amy carefully raises the caterpillars until mature butterflies emerge. Thus far, Amy has released more than 500 adult monarchs back into the wild. Her 27 acre property along Wisconsin’s Trimbelle River, is a natural habitat for Monarchs.
Also mentioned was fellow blogger Kim Smith, who initiated the Cape Ann Milkweed Project in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Kim distributes milkweed seeds and encourages homeowners to create more habitat for Monarch butterflies.
Kim often blogs about Monarchs and her efforts to support gardeners around the country willing to grow their host plant. Milkweed is the only plant on which Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs. Monarch larvae eat only milkweed as they grow. Often considered a weed, few homeowners include it in their landscape.
Monarcch on Staghorn Sumac along the Colonial Parkway this weekend.
As natural areas, and the native plants they support, disappear; and roads, neighborhoods and shopping centers proliferate across the landscape; we see the direct consequences in our dwindling butterfly populations.
Many of us in the blogging community have written about our search for Monarchs and other native butterflies this season.
Many of us share the concern that they haven’t visited our gardens in their usual numbers this summer.
This male Monarch has made himself at home in our garden, enjoying the Lantana buffet these last few weeks. Do you see the spots, near the body, on his rear wings? These spots indicate a male butterfly.
Eliza Waters, another Massachusetts based blogging friend, also documents her efforts to support the Monarch population in her gardens.
Much like Rachel Carson raised the alarm about our native birds in her 1962 Silent Spring, so our generation documents our concerns for the butterflies. Carson’s book launched the environmental movement in the United States, bringing about sweeping changes in our laws; eventually banning DDT and other harmful insecticides and pesticides.
And now, more than 50 years later, we witness a resurgence of the environmental movement inspired, in part, by the loss of our beloved butterflies.
We know that herbicides used in commercial farming, along with over development, play in a major role in the loss of both milkweeds and the nectar flowers Monarchs, and other butterflies, depend upon for their life cycle.
And although this problem appears very large, each of us can do our own small part to make a positive difference.
We can each have our own tiny “Butterfly Effect.” Do you know the term?
Edward Lorenz coined the term in 1961 to describe how one tiny change in the initial conditions of a system may dramatically effect the outcome. It is an axiom of Chaos Theory.
And while we might feel helpless to have much effect against multinational corporations spraying herbicides on their GMO crops, or the energy giants building thousands of miles of new gas pipelines across our communities; we can create a safe and supportive habitat on our own properties for butterflies, frogs, songbirds, and the other beautiful little creatures whose presence indicates a rich web of life in our garden.
Tiny insects on Rose of Sharon seedpods
We can plant milkweed for the Monarchs. And we can plant fennel, parsley, dill, black cherry trees, and other native trees to host the other butterflies we love.
Even those of us gardening on a condo balcony or patio can grow these simple host and nectar plants in pots.
Every tiny effort makes a positive difference.
Joe Pye Weed, new in our garden this spring, has fed many creatures over the season.
We can stop using pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers in our gardens, thus keeping them out of the water supply and out of the food chain.
Unknown larvae feed on Virginia Creeper vines growing on this Eastern Red Cedar.
We can include berry and seed producing shrubs and trees in our garden, and leave some untended “wild” places for creatures to nest and shelter.
And we can support our neighbors in their efforts to create wildlife habitat in their own gardens.
MIlkweed pods bursting to release their downy seeds is a sure sign of October in Virginia. These grow beside College Creek in our community.
Let us all keep “The Butterfly Effect” in mind. In our seemingly chaotic world, every small act of kindness and goodwill has the potential to make an enormous difference as our story unfolds here on Earth.
Every milkweed seed we nurture may host hundreds of Monarch butterflies.
Every bit of garden we cultivate may feed thousands of creatures.
Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014