When I was a small child, I would spend fall days chasing butterflies. Forget butterfly nets we had our hands!We would spot them off in a field and start running. If I close my eyes, I can remember how the sun felt on my back. The grass between my toes and butterflies in colors of white, bright yellow, golden-yellow or mixtures of brown,orange and black being carried away by the wind. Once they would land we would quietly tiptoe till we were right above them, slowly cup our hands, hold our breath and lower our bodies as we gently captured a little magic!They were our floating fairies.
Chasing butterflies gave us a quest which we achieved over and over as we ran from,field to field. We never hurt butterflies for that was the number one rule, to hold them very gently making sure not to cause any of their wings to be damaged. As a child that was all we needed. Sometimes we were gifted with the “pause” of a butterfly that decided to hang on our fingers a little bit longer as it prepared to float away. As they drifted off, we would watch in wonderment until we spotted another butterfly to catch. Our other rule was you never chased the same butterfly again,all accepted the golden rules of butterfly catching. Life was simple. It was perfect.
I see the same butterflies we use to catch with our hands for hours as they still float by, and some of them eat holes in my Brassica plants! I now plant petunias and other flowers to help with their increased populations. I no longer chase those butterflies with my bare hands. Instead, I am busy building butterfly gardens in my urban potager.
The other day, I went for a bike ride on the back waters of the Mississippi River where native flower and plants were blooming. I saw the most beautiful thing in the world, pairs of floating monarchs up and down the river!I have not seen that many in a long time due to their decline.
“What we’re seeing here in the United States is a very precipitous decline of monarchs that’s coincident with the adoption of Roundup-ready corn and soybeans. The first ones were introduced in 1997, soybeans first, than corn. By 2003, 2004, the adoption rate was approaching 50 percent,The use of Roundup ‘has effectively eliminated milkweed from almost all of the habitat monarchs used to use.’and then we really began to see a decline in monarchs. And the reason is that the most productive habitat for monarch butterflies in the Midwest, in the Corn Belt, was the corn and soybean fields [wheremilkweed, which monarchs feed on, grew]. Before Roundup-ready crops, weed control was accomplished by running a tiller through those fields and chopping up the weeds and turning over the soil, but not affecting the crops. The milkweed survives that sort of tillage to some extent. So there were maybe 20, 30, 40 plants per acre out there, enough so that you could see them, you could photograph them.Now you are really hard pressed to find any corn or soybeans that have milkweed in the fields. I haven’t seen any for years now because of the use of Roundup after they planted these crops. They have effectively eliminated milkweed from almost all of the habitat that monarchs used to use” University of Kansas insect ecologist Orley R. “Chip” at MonarchWatch.org
The loss of habitat in the United States is what is contributing to the decline in monarchs. This spring I cleared another area to plant some more milkweed(host plant for monarch) and native plants to support the monarch and other local butterflies. I counted four monarchs the other day while I was working in my garden. That is more than I have seen in years!
There are two different categories of plants you need in your butterfly garden. You need “host plants” which butterflies lay their eggs on at the start of their life cycle. I would check for articles written for your growing zone/area so you make sure to integrate the right “host”plants into your landscape. You then will need “nectar plants” for your butterflies. Try to find which native nectar plants are best for your garden. I have found since I rotate crops in companion plantings a list for annual “nectar plants” is useful. Native wild life supplies have a helpful list of annual plants. If you do an internet search, I am sure you can find others to add to your list.
When I got home from my bike ride the other day, I headed out to our garden to get some work done.I started clearing my summer garden bed for fall planting when out of the corner of my eye. I spotted a floating monarch.It called to me, “Get your camera and chase me today!I ran inside, stumbling over my poor old dog and snatched my camera and ran outside to chase butterflies!
The monarch floated by me again, teasing me as they always do! When I try to capture them with my camera, they decide to flit away because this time they are in control. I was not up for another chase, until out of the corner of my eye there was another monarch that floated right in front of me and tried to land on the same flower as another. The two monarchs twisted and turned around each other trying to both fit on a Tithonia rotundifolia, which is their favorite in my garden. I grabbed my camera and shot a picture just as a native bee decided he wanted to jump in the picture and mix it up too!A little out of focus but priceless moment!
As I was shuffling through my flower beds, chasing these two butterflies another one shows up, and now I have three monarchs.I was having a day of monarch butterflies flying in twos and now 3’s! ….I have never had three monarchs in my garden at one time. I was not able to catch-all three,but I did capture the two, and then the 3rd one decided he would let me get up close!
If you have ever tried to capture butterflies with your camera, you know they drift and hardly ever stop too long to give you a chance to line up your shot. Since I started creating a butterfly friendly garden, I have seen more butterfly’s than other years. It appears they are arriving + staying for they daily tease me with their ” Can you catch me”!
I found this wonderful documentary of the Monarch butterfly at Mercola.com. There is an article worth reading and other information about the monarch. It is well worth 20 minutes of your time + I would watch with a young child since it will instill a love for the monarch life cycle. Maybe raises some more butterfly lovers!
” The future of the monarchs as well as ALL of nature is in our hands”....Please this fall plant more milkweed for our Monarchs. We all can spare a small spot in our garden for a few milkweed plants and if you want build a small butterfly garden on your city lot. It will make a difference.