Monarchs in the Garden

Monarch spotted feeding in our garden this morning.

Monarch spotted feeding in our garden this morning.


Monarchs have returned to our garden.  In the past three days I’ve seen Monarch butterflies feeding on several different occasions.

The first time wasn’t in our garden at all.  It was Sunday afternoon in far western Chesterfield County.

I was driving out towards Amelia, and made a “U” turn to return to a little roadside nursery.   There was a small stand of goldenrod growing in the median, and to our delight, a beautiful Monarch was hovering over the goldenrod.  I was thrilled to finally see one again after watching for them all summer.


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And then this morning, a Monarch flew past our porch, and lit in the upper branches of our pear tree.  We watched it until it took off again.  We took it as a very good omen.

Especially since my partner had found, and shared with me, an article about cooperative preservation efforts involving Canada, The United States and Mexico in the current Scientific American magazine yesterday morning.


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It is always good when our nations cooperate. 

To find a high level of dedication and coordination in an effort to save the Monarch butterfly is astounding.

One idea mentioned in the article, which shows a lot of promise, is to establish corridors of native plants, especially milkweed species, along certain north-south interstate highways.

Monarchs need habitat and food all along the way of their annual migration.


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This is such a good idea, it begs the question:  Why not establish native plant habitat along ALL of our interstate highways? 

I know that many states have planted wildflowers and allowed native plants to grow along their highways.  To me, this is not only common sense, but also a beautiful approach to highway maintenance.

It certainly makes a trip more interesting for the traveler to have wide swaths of beautiful flowers and trees to enjoy along the roadside.


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It helps travelers get a better “sense of place,” too, to see how native vegetation varies form region to region.

But it also would save each Department of Transportation money that in currently spent mowing the roadsides and medians every few weeks.

Our butterfly and songbird populations both would benefit from corridors of native plants all along our major highways.

I hope that efforts to preserve habitat in Mexico, and efforts to curtail the use of insecticides and herbicides  in all three nations prove successful.

This is the patch of roses and Lantana where I found the Monarch this morning.  It now reaches well over our heads.  The Lantana are several years old, but still die back to the ground each winter.  So this is one season's growth....

This is the patch of roses and Lantana where I found the Monarch this morning. It now reaches well over our heads. The Lantana are several years old, but still die back to the ground each winter. So this is one season’s growth….


Efforts to plant more milkweed should be encouraged and supported by individuals and institutions, in addition to  government agencies planting milkweed along the roadsides.

We can all make a small effort towards providing a supportive habitat for wildlife and the specific plants our butterflies need to reproduce.


Many of us plant exotic plants and purely ornamental plants, like these roses, instead of Milkweed and other host plants for butterfly larvae.  The dill, fennel and parsley we grew this year, host for swallowtails and other butterflies, weren't eaten by larvae this season.  We have been concerned at how few larvae and butterflies we've spotted since spring.

Many of us plant exotic plants and purely ornamental plants, like these roses, instead of Milkweed and other host plants for butterfly larvae. The dill, fennel and parsley we grew this year, host for swallowtails and other butterflies, weren’t eaten by larvae this season. We have been concerned at how few larvae and butterflies we’ve spotted since spring.


The third Monarch butterfly was feeding on our Lantana when I came out to work in the garden this morning.  I was thrilled to find it there, and even happier that it was still blissed out on Lantana nectar when I returned with the camera.  It  kept peacefully feeding as I joyfully photographed its progress.


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When it finally fluttered off, it was to another patch of Lantana a few yards away.

Although Lantana won’t support Monarch larvae, it offers a good food source to fuel the mature Monarchs’ migration this month.


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I hope you have recently spotted Monarchs feeding in your community. 

October is the time when they gather together for the long trip back to Mexico, where they will spend the winter.

We also hope this winter is gentler to them than last, and that this beautiful species will not only survive, but will respond to our conservation efforts (as many eagles have) and become a common sight in our summer gardens once more.

(All of the links today will take you to interesting and current information on Monarchs and efforts to preserve them.)


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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Return to the Pond, Looking For Caterpillars

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We returned to the pond, nestled along the Colonial Parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown,  hoping to find evidence of Monarch caterpillars and eggs.

As soon as we arrived it was evident that summer has not been kind to this spot.


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Flowering plants along the edge of the road had been mown.  I hope it was just mowing at least, and not herbicides, which turned this once beautiful area brown and grey.

The Alliums, Daisies, Queen Anne’s Lace, Purple Milk Vetch and Milkweed, so vivid in memory, were gone.


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In their place we found various grasses, a patch of orange flowers, and Milkweed, now going to seed.


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Milkweed plants nearest to the parking area have obviously hosted caterpillars, many of their leaves methodically stripped away.

In fact, we found quite a few caterpillars at their dinner.


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We also found a few spots of eggs.

And while we were happy to find eggs and larvae, these are not the eggs and larvae of Monarchs.


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I haven’t yet been able to identify this caterpillar, and certainly appreciate anyone who is able to name it for us in the comments.


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These caterpillars are drawn to this Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca,  whether the plant lives or not.


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We found perhaps a dozen individual caterpillars while walking around the perimeter of the planting, staying on the mown grassy areas.


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The Milkweed plants further away on the slope didn’t show any obvious signs of chewing, although they continue to set seed for next year’s crop.

And we also didn’t spot any adult butterflies around the pond this evening.


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My partner spotted a turtle, swimming in the pond, as I hunted for caterpillars.   And I enjoyed the company of dragonflies and grasshoppers.

But that was all, late on a late July evening, as shadows grew deeper, and the golden rays of sunset touched the treetops one last time before slipping below the horizon.


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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

A Monarch For Memorial Day

Butterflies, Dragonflies, and Bumblebees

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Eliza Waters is a wonderful advocate for wild creatures of all sorts, but she has a special interest in Monarch butterflies.

We have been corresponding this spring about the plight of the Monarch.  She has been involved in creating habitat for them.  And she responded to the post with photos of a Monarch  we found near Yorktown, Virginia, in late May.

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We found this Monarch on May 23, 2014. There was no sign of Monarchs today, sadly.

Eliza asked, earlier today, whether we had found any eggs or signs of Monarch larvae on the Milkweed by the pond where we have been watching for butterflies.

So my partner and I returned this evening, to see what we might see.

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We found the Milkweed plants just covered in bumblebees, feasting on their tiny flowers just as the flowers were opening.  And the bumblebees were so blissed out on the wonderful nectar, they were totally oblivious to my presence.

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Just inches away, they continued to feed while I took photos.

But in the entire time we explored, there was only one small butterfly or moth.  I don’t know its name, but suspect it is a moth.

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Not a single Monarch to be found.  And at Eliza’s suggestion, I searched for signs of eggs or larvae on the Milkweed plants.

I”m so sorry to say that I couldn’t locate either.  The Milkweed leaves look pristine- no larval munching.  I checked the closest Milkweed plants and found no eggs, either.

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Perhaps the Monarch did lay her eggs on one of these plants closer to the pond; one I didn’t climb down the bank to inspect.  Let us hope that is the case.

And we’ll continue to check back from time to time to see what evidence we may find as the summer unfolds.

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Today we were happy to find a brilliant blue dragonfly.

He was quite happy to sit still while I snapped off several portraits of him.

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He was watching me, but didn’t even flinch until I moved away.  He was a great sport, and I appreciate his patience.

The swans have moved on, too.  But we found Egrets wading further down the road.

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Early summer brings such a pageant of life to our community.

We enjoy the staccato music of the frogs and the basso continuo buzzing of bees under the melody of birds calling to one another.

So much life, and such beauty.

All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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A Monarch For Memorial Day

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This lovely Monarch was feeding along the Colonial Parkway, near Yorktown, at mid-day today.

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The entire bank of a pond was covered with purple milk vetch, Astragalus; butterfly weed , Asclepias; daisies, and grasses.

A perfect habitat for a Monarch to feed and to lay its eggs welcomed this little one on a perfect, sunny late May day.

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I didn’t see the Monarch at first.  My lens was focused on Mountain Laurels growing on the opposite bank.

And as we were pulling into the parking area, we spotted a family of swans.  You’ll see the swans in another post.

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While I was following them around, my partner, always the keen observer, spotted the Monarch.

He pointed it out as I returned to the car; both of us thrilled to spot a Monarch in an area where it can lay its eggs and expect them to survive to the next generation.

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This pond lies on Federal land.  The sunny bank of wildflowers is part of the narrow National Park, maintained by our National Park Service,  which skirts both sides of the Colonial Parkway.

These gorgeous wildflowers and all of the creatures who live here are protected.

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At one time Virginia, like much of the United States, was covered in wildflowers each spring.  Our rich soil and abundant rain support luxuriant growth.

Where land is regularly mown, many are destroyed before they can flower and set seed.  One of the joys of drives along the Parkway are the many species left alone to grow each year.

The purple flowered Milk Vetch is a member of the pea family.  If you’ve ever grow peas, or sweet pea flowers, you see the resemblance immediately.

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These plant improve the soil by fixing nitrogen, taken in through the stomata on the leaves, in little growths on the roots.  When the plant dies back or is cut, the roots remain to fertilize the soil with extra  nitrogen.

This stand of milkweed ensures the survival of the Monarchs as it is their preferred host plant.

All of these plants feed insects now, and later birds will eat their seeds.

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Wildflowers hold the soil against erosion, cleanse the air of pollution, and add to the beauty of this spot along the Parkway.

How much richer we all would be if more government and private land were allowed to bloom in wildflowers each year.  How much better for species like the Monarch, who rely on spots like this for their very survival.

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Although the adults will enjoy nectar from many flowers, the larval caterpillars eat milkweed leaves.

These will bloom in a few more days, adding to the beauty here and providing food for butterflies and other nectar loving insects.


“May your life be like a wildflower, growing freely in the beauty and joy of each day.”

Native American Saying

“May your life be like a wildflower, growing freely in the beauty and joy of each day.”
Native American Proverb – See more at:
“May your life be like a wildflower, growing freely in the beauty and joy of each day.”
Native American Proverb – See more at:

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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A Monarch at Last!

Finally, this morning, we found  beautiful Monarch butterflies, sharing a display of white Buddleia  davidii with  Painted Ladies, at the  Homestead Garden Center. Such a pleasure to finally spot one in our area, fueling up on nectar, preparing for the long migration south. Photos by Woodland Gnome Related articles Monarch butterflies wow students ( Missing … Continue reading

Where Have the Butterflies Gone?

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Where have the butterflies gone?  Just in the last few days I’ve noticed their absence.  On Friday I was watching one bigger than a goldfinch feeding on a Zinnia, and suddenly yesterday, I didn’t see any while working in the garden.

And this morning, I read Kim Smith’s beautiful piece on the declining Monarch population.


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Our population of Swallowtails has been strong this season.  We’ve had their constant companionship for months.  We often stop to enjoy them as we’re walking past the windows, arriving home in the car, and working in the garden.  They have been a delight- and now are more than missed.

And now this morning, sipping coffee early this morning on the deck, I spy new caterpillars.


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What a joy to find them. They are still enjoying the Bronze Fennel I sought so early this spring, hoping for a huge, ferny display all summer.  Well, Andrew Patton ordered it for me when I inquired,  and soon I purchased beautiful healthy plants at Homestead Garden Center.  We planted it in  big pots, alongside Borage, with high hopes.  Somehow, I think that watching generation after generation of these beautiful caterpillars has been even more interesting than a huge Fennel plant might have been; disregarding the fact that they were never able to bloom.

So I’m happy that the Swallowtails found a sanctuary here in our little garden.  We have done our small part here to keep their population healthy and happily growing.


Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea.

Tiger Swallowtails on Echinacea.


Sadly, the Monarchs are struggling.  The herbicides used by farmers raising GMO crops destroy the host plants Monarchs require to raise their young.  The Milkweed plants are disappearing from the countryside for many reasons- development, spread of the suburbs, and industrial farming.  Each of us can do our small part to assist the Monarchs, along with countless other small wild things, by providing safe habitat and the host plants they require to live.

The stores are full of brightly packaged chemicals to solve every gardening problem, from weeds to mosquitoes.  As more and more of us see past the promise of a quick fix, and understand the implications of using these dangerous chemicals, perhaps we can turn to other,  safer, ways to manage our land and grow our gardens.  The 1960’s promise of “Better Life Through Chemistry” was a hollow promise.  We have poisoned our water, poisoned our land, and now are poisoning ourselves.


Monarch on Zinnias


Please keep in mind that we are all interconnected.  All of us are parts of the web of life, sharing this beautiful home hurtling through space.  And we Homo sapiens sapiens, intended to be the wisest of creatures, are the ones who have killed the oceans, filled the aquifers with fracking fluids, cut the forests which purify our air, and are now in process of even destroying our store of seeds for the foods on which we depend through genetic modification to make them immune to herbicides.  As our farmers spray their fields with glyphosate, killing the host plants needed by birds and butterflies; so it also runs off into creeks and ponds, killing insect larvae, frogs, fish, and turtles.


Monarch feeding on Asclepias syriaca at the Stonehouse Elementary native plant garden.


We can not, by ourselves, change industrial farming practices or stop fracking for natural gas.

We can do our own small bit to keep our own garden as a sanctuary free of herbicides, and pesticides; to provide sources of clean water; and grow a few life-giving plants to sustain the creatures who find shelter with us.

As we do to the least among us…. we do to ourselves.


There are many butterflies and moths native in Virginia and all of them are currently in decline. We have a network of dedicated butterfly enthusiasts in our area who rescue and raise cats, releasing the butterflies into the wild as they emerge, and by protecting the butterfly larvae, they help insure that more individuals make it to the adult butterfly stage, mate, and increase the population.


Woodland Gnome 2013

Updated 2021



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