Saturday, July 13, 2013

Saving the monarch butterfly by Harrison Wood

The monarch butterfly is one of the most revered butterflies not only in this country but this state as well, and yet sadly enough unless something happens its survival is precarious at best.
How does this affect us you ask? Well the Monarch is an important pollinator and without it birds like the colorful Goldfinch may not exist.
The Monarch counts its survival on of all things our veracious Milkweed. This weed as some would have us call it not only provides the Monarch with a primary nectar source, it also provides it with the only place to lay its eggs. After laying its eggs the butterfly has completed its task so the only thing left is for them to die. Yet not all is lost because their eggs quickly develop into a rather large larva (caterpillar). This colorful, yellow with black stripped veracious crawler quickly sets about to eat the leaves of the milkweed, one of the few insects that can do so until it develops into the pupal stage and then back to a flying adult and the process starts all over again.

So you can see that without the milkweed this important pollinator could not exist here in Maine.
Furthermore, given that the flying Goldfinch that nests in the fall uses the soft downy filaments tied to the milkweed seeds to line its nest, and given that unlike most birds this one nests in the early fall just when the earlier milkweeds go to seed…it's easy too see that this often disliked weed is an important element to the natural scheme of things.

It was Darwin who once said that most things in the natural environment change slowly over eons of time, yet what often happens with man's intervention some things change quickly and not for the better.

What can we do you ask? For one, where possible, even though many farmers may not like this idea because this weed often gets into the edge of open pasture areas, we can protect these areas.
More to the point given how fragrant and colorful this weed can be up close with it's softball size clusters of pink nectar laden flowers, we can add a few if them toward the back of our perennial borders. Milkweed can be quick to try and take over, yet with some diligence we can keep them under control. Secondly we can also add other nectar laden plants to our gardens that the hummingbirds will also say thank you. You can use plants such as the taller annual Salvia varieties, or possibly some of the aggressive vines like the red trumpet vine, or some of the orange flowering honeysuckle.

Hit the computer, do a search and you will quickly find sites where you can get not only some of the newer milkweed cultivars, you can also find other plants and ideas as well.
So you can see that once we set our minds to it there is a lot that we can do to help.
Remember foremost gone is gone, if we let this one go, what's next? 

Harrison Wood is a master gardener and is on the committee for the Windham Community Garden.

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